The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, traversing Tampa Bay for 4.1 miles and connecting St. Petersburg with Terra Ceia and Bradenton, Fla., is formally dedicated on April 20, 1987.
The soaring bridge's stability is maintained by 21 cables, each 6 to 8 inches in diameter, that fan out from the top of two 432-foot pylons. The cables, anchored every 24 feet across the span, each support the weight of more than 400 cars.
Forty-foot-wide roadways run on either side of the cables, allowing drivers unobstructed views of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. Since its opening, it has been a backdrop for countless car commercials. During the pandemic, it became a popular refuge for motorists seeking a scenic respite while isolated in their cars.
It soars 190 feet above the water and can withstand winds up to 290 mph.
The span is considered one of the longest cable-stayed concrete bridges, and the Travel Channel once rated it one of the top 10 bridges in the world.
It replaced a four-mile steel cantilever bridge damaged in a deadly 1980 storm when the freighter Summit Venture plowed into the bridge. More than 1,000 feet of the bridge fell into the bay, killing 35 motorists and bus passengers instantly.
The new bridge was built at a cost of $230 million, with the Florida Department of Transportation beginning engineering and construction days after the 1980 accident.
More than 300 precast concrete segments are linked together with the high-strength steel cables to form the roadway. The dolphins that were built around each pier were designed to withstand the impact of an 87,000-ton ship.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is modeled after the Brotonne Bridge over the Seine River in France.
Since it opened to traffic in 1987, the sleek bridge has won dozens of engineering and design awards.
"This bridge soars over the water with a lyrical and tensile strength," Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote in October 1988. "Not since the George Washington, Bronx-Whitestone and Golden Gate bridges, the high points of suspension bridge design in the 1930s, has a major bridge been as compelling a visual presence as this one. From afar, the rows of cables, which are painted a bright yellow, look like vast sails, and the pylons like masts. There is a precision to the structure that calls to mind computer graphics; this is a bridge whirred off a computer, not a bridge made of mechanical parts."