Tampa Bay bridges to close once winds pick up
Florida Highway Patrol will close the Howard Frankland Bridge, Gandy Bridge and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge when wind speeds reach 40 mph, spokesman Steve Gaskins said.
The Courtney Campbell Causeway is not managed by FHP. The decision on whether to close that bridge will be made by the Clearwater or Tampa police departments, Gaskins said.
However, Tampa Police Department spokesman Steve Hegarty said they will coordinate with Florida Highway Patrol and close the causeway at roughly the same time.
FHP has frequently closed the Skyway Bridge when storms with high winds hit Tampa Bay, but closing the Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges is more rare. Usually that decision is made on a “wait and see” basis and not tagged to a specific wind speed, Gaskins said.
However, FHP has decided to take a different approach in the face of Hurricane Irma.
“Typically with those bridges, we’re looking for waves crashing and other factors, but now they’re adding wind speed to it as well,” Gaskins said. “When those wind speeds starting showing up here, that’s when we’re going to start closing bridges.”
People should monitor their typical news alerts as to when those wind levels might happen, Gaskins said.
Unlike the other area bridges, there is no set wind speed that would trigger a closure for the Courtney Campbell, Clearwater Police spokesman Rob Shaw said. It all depends on conditions.
Clearwater Police will monitor the conditions and provide that information to Pinellas County, which will make the ultimate decision on closing the bridge.
"There is no decision on anything related to the Courtney Campbell Causeway at this time," Shaw said. "It all depends on when the weather starts to deteriorate."
If the Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges do close, that leaves the causeway as the only bridge connecting Pinellas County to Tampa. Other options include U.S. 19 north out of Pinellas County.
Pinellas County issued a mandatory evacuation for Zones A and B. Any residents looking to evacuate have been urged to do so as soon as possible. The closings of these major bridges would cut off most major routes for Pinellas residents.
“You need to be making arrangements now if you haven’t already done so,” Gaskins said. “There will come a point if it gets too dangerous out there that our troopers are going to secure themselves somewhere for their safety. If the bridge is closed, the bridge is closed."