Tampa, Florida and the surrounding area is known for its water. In fact, the body of water called Tampa Bay is the popular namesake for the West Central Florida region that’s the home of cities like St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, Brandon, Plant City, and Tampa. The bridges that carry local motorists and traveling tourists alike through the Tampa Bay area provide key ways to get around the area.
Five of the most well-known bridges in Tampa Bay are the Howard Frankland Bridge, Courtney Campbell Causeway, Gandy Bridge, the Bayside Bridge, and Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The Howard Frankland Bridge
The Howard Frankland Bridge is an eight-lane stretch of highway connecting Tampa with central Pinellas County. The original 4-lane span of the Howard Frankland Bridge opened in 1959 at a cost of $16 million. Over the ensuing years, the Howard Frankland soon became one of the most well-traveled bridges in the region.
In the late 1980s, construction on building a parallel 4-lane span began. The new, $54 million span opened in 1991 with much fanfare and, over the next year, upgrades were made to the original 1959 bridge. By 1992, both spans were carrying four lanes of traffic.
The 1959 bridge now brings 4 lanes of traffic eastbound from Pinellas County to Tampa; the newer span is a westbound shot taking motorists from Tampa to Pinellas County. Kennedy Boulevard is easily accessible from the eastern edge of the Howard Frankland Bridge. On the west side of the bridge are exits to 4th Street North and Ulmerton Road.
Interestingly, the Howard Frankland Bridge was once officially part of Interstate 4. This changed in the early 1970s; the Howard Frankland Bridge has since been designated as Interstate 275.
The Courtney Campbell Causeway
If you’re a tourist or Tampa resident heading toward the local beaches, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re going to include the Courtney Campbell Causeway on your trip. Part of State Road 60, the Courtney Campbell Causeway is a direct link between Tampa and Clearwater. Along the way, Ben T. Davis beach, the banks of Oldsmar, and beautiful views of the waters of Old Tampa Bay. In fact, the Courtney Campbell Bridge is designated as a Florida Scenic Highway.
The span opened in 1934; each car crossing what was then known as Davis Bridge was charged a 25 cent toll. In 1944, the Davis Bridge was bought by the State of Florida and named for Courtney Campbell, a local resident who served as a United States Congressman and Florida Road Board member who was instrumental in efforts to make the bridge a fitting and beautiful thoroughfare.
The Courtney Campbell Causeway drops motorists off near Tampa International Airport on the east side of the bridge; the Safety Harbor neighborhood is nestled just north of the western side of the span.
The Bayside Bridge
With a need to relieve congested U.S. 19 of traffic in central Pinellas County, the Bayside Bridge was built in 1993 with the aim of connecting McMullen Booth Road to the vicinity of 49th Street North and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
The Bayside Bridge is unique in the area in that it’s the only major bridge that crosses over Old Tampa Bay with a north-south orientation. Boasting six lanes, the Bayside Bridge is a quick connection between the Courtney Campbell Causeway to the north and Roosevelt Boulevard to the south.
The Gandy Bridge
The first of Tampa Bay’s big bridges, the Gandy Bridge first opened in 1924. When it opened, its 2.5-mile span broke the world record for the longest toll bridge designed for cars. The 75-cent toll per car (and 10 cents for each passenger after the driver) was a reasonable sum, given that the Gandy Bridge shaved over 20 miles off the distance of traveling from one side of Tampa Bay to the other.
In 1956, a new span opened to supplement the original bridge’s two-lane traffic load. In 1975 a new eastbound span of the Gandy Bridge opened, and the original bridge was closed and later demolished. Construction was completed on a newer westbound span in 1997. With the traffic-carrying need of the 1956 bridge now supplanted by both the 1975 and 1997 bridges, the 1956 span of the Gandy Bridge was officially repurposed in 1999 as a walking and biking path and called The Friendship Trail Bridge.
A structure withstanding brutal natural forces from hurricane winds, storms, and traffic for over half a century, decay on The Friendship Trail resulted in the indefinite closure of the bridge in 2008. County commissions on both sides of the Gandy Bridge have voted to demolish the 1956 structure at some point in the coming years.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Perhaps the only piece of interstate architecture in Tampa Bay that truly qualifies as a tourist draw, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a 4-lane cable-stayed concrete bridge that links Pinellas County to Manatee County and spans over the mouth of Tampa Bay.
The history of the Sunshine Skyway bridge dates back to the 1954 opening of a two-lane metal cantilever bridge that served as a critical artery in the region. In 1971, a second, nearly identical cantilever bridge was open parallel to the 1954 bridge to accomplish a total of 4 lanes for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The twin span Sunshine Skyway Bridge serviced motorists for the rest of the 1970s until one stormy, tragic day in May 1980. That’s when a freighter known as Summit Venture struck the southbound bridge (the span built in 1971). 35 people died in the collapse of the bridge, including those in a Greyhound bus. After the cleanup efforts were completed, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was reduced to its original, 2-lane bridge built over a quarter-century earlier.
After deliberations, it was determined that the construction of a new 4-lane bridge would be the appropriate course of reconstruction – especially given that both old Sunshine Skyway spans were not built to the interstate highway standard (The Sunshine Skyway Bridge would not become part of Interstate 275 until later in the 1980s).
In 1987, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened with a major formal celebration. By 1991, most of the old concrete and metal structure of the 1954 and 1971 Sunshine Skyway Bridge spans was demolished; only the bridges’ east and west approaches remain today, servicing as fishing piers.
Firsthand knowledge and experience
Courtney Campbell Bridge/Florida Scenic Highway
Courtney Campbell Bridge
Howard Frankland Bridge
Sunshine Skyway Bridge