Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Bridges

There's a story in the local paper about a drunk driving for several miles in the wrong direction. These sort of stories are not that unusual, in the UK or the US. However, for me this woman added an extra dash of horror by driving the wrong way over the Tappan Zee bridge.

I don't really like big bridges. I love them for their beauty and for their engineering. They are one of the most impressive marks that man has left on the world, huge monuments to our ability to shape our environment. I just don't like driving over them.

In May 1980 when I was nine, my family went on holiday to Florida. We stayed in an amazing hotel in St Petersburg and we also drove to Orlando and Disney World. At one point we drove over the Sunshine Skyway.

The Sunshine Skyway was a bridge that spanned over five miles of Tampa Bay. Actually it was two bridges alongside each other. Each bridge carried traffic in one direction. The design of the bridge was to keep the road close to the water's surface for the majority of the span, and to have a high-point for ships to pass under. The same basic idea as the Tappan Zee bridge, shown above.

At some point in May 1980, I think before we arrived in Florida, a ship crashed into the Sunshine Skyway causing 400 yards of the bridge's span to fall 150 feet into the sea below. You can read all about why it happened in this detailed and fascinating St Petersburg Times article.

With one bridge gone, both directions of traffic ran on the other span until they built an entirely new bridge in 1987. I remember driving over it aged nine and looking out the car window as we passed the missing section. I thought about the cars driving up the slope of the bridge, not realising that the section was missing and the driving off the precipice into the water below. I found it very unsettling.

You can see what the bridge looked like after the crash and get a real idea of the size of the collapse in the opening credits of SuperBoy, a TV show that ran in the 1980s.

I don't like driving over big bridges. They make me nervous. To be honest, I've never been worried about the bridge coming down, more about being pushed over the edge by another vehicle. I tend to stay away from lorries when I'm on them. If a driver loses control of his lorry, I won't be nearby to deal with it. Now I have to contend with drunk drivers coming the wrong way as well as the lorries.

The new Sunshine Skyway is amazing, though.

1 comment:

  1. The Sunshine Skyway IS amazing! I've driven over it now two times, and it feels sometimes like you are driving right on the water. Incredible and maddening.