Friday, February 26, 2010

Florida's Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the Continuing Improvements to theQuality of Life in Essex County


This posting represents the 100th posting offered since Essex Happenings was created

Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge

From time to time during our stay at Treasure Island Florida, we have the occasion to travel south over a truly spectacular bridge that spans Tampa Bay. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge named for the former Governor and US Senator from Florida, is a cable-stayed bridge that was built over a five-year span from 1982 to 1987. The current bridge replaced a smaller span that was run into by a tanker in an accident on May 9, 1980. The current bridge is a marvelous engineering achievement that covers a distance of 5.5 mile in length and towers over the bay at 193 feet above the water level. The bridge carries four lanes of traffic and 20,000 vehicles use the bridge on a daily basis to travel between Pinellas and Manatee Counties. The bridge on occasion has to be closed due to dense fog or extremely high winds.

The previous bridge was a much smaller span that only carried two lanes of traffic and as mentioned was destroyed in an accident in May of 1980. That day in a violent thunderstorm a tanker leaving the Port of Tampa ran into the bridge and as a result 1000 feet of the bridge collapsed into the bay taking six automobiles and a Greyhound Bus with the wrecked portion of the bridge into the waters of the bay. The construction of the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge began immediately and five years and $245 million later the new span was opened. The remaining sections of the old bridge were then converted into fishing piers that are still most active today and are almost always busy with recreational fishermen whenever we cross over the bridge. It is interesting to note that the bridge that was destroyed in the boating accident was built in 1955 and replaced a ferry that previously took passengers between the two counties. One sad note connected to the bridge is that since it’s opening in 1987 there have been 140 reported suicide attempts as jumpers leaped from the bridge. Miraculously 10 of those attempted suicides were unsuccessful. It is a wonderful experience to cross the bridge and to enjoy the view from the top of the span, and one can see why the Travel Channel has identified the bridge in the top three bridges in this country.

Quality of Life Issues an Important Reason Why Essex County is so livable

Last month I saw an announcement of another major medical improvement to the region where we all live and work. The news focused on the decision that Boston Children’s Hospital had decided to dramatically expand its presence in Essex County. For the last decade that hospital has maintained a small 6000 sq ft facility in the Leahy Hospital complex at the North Shore Shopping Center, but now they are planning to remodel an old building into a new 60,000 sq ft office in Centennial Park in Peabody. This new facility only adds to the incredible array of medical facilities that are located within the borders of Essex County. In just the last couple of years, North Shore Medical Center in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital has built a fantastic new medical facility on Endicott Street in Danvers, and Northeast Health Systems has added a wonderful medical building on the site of the old Danvers State Hospital. Now we learn that North Shore Medical Center is about to announce the completion of a major new state of the art intensive care unit on the Salem campus. When we consider all of the other improvements and office expansions that the three major hospitals have made all over the area, it is clear that this region is one of the finest locations in the state for health care services. We are also most fortunate to have wonderful family hospitals with Addison Gilbert in Gloucester and Anna Jacques in Newburyport, plus the Lynn facilities managed by North Shore Medical. It is clear that his region has become a Mecca for medical facilities second to none possibly in all of New England. The medical technology that we have at our disposal in the region is only the tip of the iceberg as Boston with all of its medical assets only minutes away in an emergency.

Our medical assets are truly superb but when we couple them with the educational institutions serving our region like Salem State College, Endicott College, Merrimack College and Marian Court College, North Shore Community College, and Northern Essex Community College, we truly have a wonderful array of colleges These institutions provide opportunities for the next generation and with the economy as it is today, there are many adults and seniors who are taking advantage of what the educational institutions in the region have to offer. We can also add the new North Shore Vocational Technical School, that received such great regional support to the mix and construction will begin on that facility in the very near term. This will allow even more students in the region the opportunity to receive specialized training at that new facility.

Add in the wide range of historic properties, community Historical Societies, world class museums like the Peabody-Essex Museum and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, the Cape Anne Museum in Gloucester and the Wenham Museum and a wide range of theatre and arts opportunities like the North Shore Theater and the Salem Theatre Company plus the State Park land and other valuable protected open space, then one can quickly see why this region is such a desirable place to live or work. We are also most fortunate to have two units of the National Park Service in our region, and the programs and the educational opportunities available at the Salem Maritime Historic Site and the Saugus Iron Works Historical Site are clearly the “frosting on the cake” for Essex County.

During the 2010 spring semester, Salem State College and its Center for Economic Development and Sustainability will be undertaking a survey on behalf of several organizations in the region including Essex Heritage that will attempt to quantify just how important all of these world class assets are to the employers and residents of the region. The study will also attempt to put an economic value to the region on these assets as well. We are most appreciative of the commitment of Salem State President, Dr Patricia Maguire Messervey and Dr Lori Krebs for their commitment to this survey. Watch for that survey in the near future, and we encourage you to participate if you are provided that opportunity. Your input will be important to us at Essex Heritage and all of the other participants in this survey as we all continue to refine strategies to make certain that we continue to provide world-class opportunities to all the businesses and residents of the region that make up the Essex National Heritage Area.

As always we value your comments, questions and observations about the work of Essex Heritage. Please contact me with your thoughts at Thanks. Tom Leonard

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