Park your cars: Foot traffic will take over Sunshine Skyway in March

Skyway 10K will benefit military families and close part of bridge

Officials discuss a 10K race to benefit military families coming to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 2018 and what that means for bridge traffic.
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Officials discuss a 10K race to benefit military families coming to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 2018 and what that means for bridge traffic.

On March 4, it won’t just be vehicles traversing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Thousands of runners are expected to cross the span, setting the pace to raise funds for military families.

The Skyway 10K is set to be the first to send foot traffic across the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge since its opening in 1987, according to race officials. It’s an event a year in the making that’s finally coming to fruition.

“The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is the northern gateway to Manatee County, and the Skyway 10K has all the makings of an outstanding event for this area,” Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said in a news release. “People will come from far and wide to be a part of history and to see the breathtaking views from atop the Skyway. Best of all, the proceeds will go to benefit local veterans and their families.”

Manatee County is home to more than 40,000 veterans year-round, according to Lee Washington, Manatee County veterans services manager.

The race will require officials to shut down some traffic to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Northbound traffic on the bridge will be shut down from 4 to 10 a.m. on March 4. Motorists will be rerouted. Southbound traffic will remain open.

“The amount of time that it’s going to take to close the bridge was minimized and picked at a non-rush time period, so we’re trying to do everything we can to help out a very important cause without having a dramatic effect on Tampa Bay,” said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

Gaskins said it would take too many resources to have the southbound side of the bridge take on both directions of traffic during the 10K.

“To close this bridge, we don’t do it lightly, whether it be fog, high winds, storms, anything like that. it’s not a decision we make very lightly and we try to get that bridge open as soon as we can,” Gaskins said.

But lending a hand for the race is something Gaskins said the FHP is happy to do, as many troopers have previously served in the armed forces.

“It’s a natural, easy fit from being veterans to go to law enforcement, especially highway patrol, so we’re very happy, very proud to be a part of this situation,” Gaskins said.

Race officials hope that by talking about the event early, residents and visitors will know about the race and be able to plan for the bridge closure.

“We’re hoping that they’ll be understanding that it’s for such a great cause,” said James Judge, spokesman for the Armed Forces Families Foundation, which will benefit from the race’s proceeds. The AFFF is a nonprofit that gives 100 percent of funds raised to projects that benefit military families.

Participants will take off from the rest area just south of the bridge on Interstate 275, run over the bridge and end 6.2 miles later at the north rest area.

A bus will carry participants from Tropicana Field to the south end of the bridge for the start of the race. The bus will also return participants to Tropicana Field from the north rest stop for the awards ceremony, according to the news release.

Race participation will be capped at 7,000 people, and the entry fee is $75. Registration opened Wednesday. Organizers expect the race to sell out and plan to expand the number of participants in future years and hope to raise about $500,000 in the inaugural event.

“The Skyway Bridge has been ranked one of the top three bridges in the world, so we have no doubt that this event will sell out,” said Thaddeus Foster, board member of AFFF. “Who wouldn’t want to run across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the Tampa Bay area during March?”

But there are still a few details to work out between now and race day. One matter is how people will watch the race.

Those looking to watch their friends and loved ones cross the finish line may have to settle for watching on the big screen. Organizers are still working out a way to set up viewing monitors form a spectating area at Tropicana Field, according to the release.

Meanwhile, a half-marathon that had been planned for New Year’s Day on the bridge has been postponed, according to organizer Shane Henry. He said that the half-marathon has been rescheduled for New Year’s Day 2019 because of several delays in the approval process.

He added that he wishes the organizers of the Skyway 10K success in their inaugural year.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh