DUNEDIN — The collapse of the Sunshine Skyway bridge on the morning of May 9, 1980 — 30 years ago Sunday — is likely the worst disaster in the Tampa Bay area's history. In a swirling rainstorm, the Summit Venture, a phosphate freighter, rammed the bridge's southbound span, knocking out a 1,260-foot section of the bridge and plunging 35 people to their deaths.
Arthur Goodale was the construction superintendent of the original Skyway bridge, a two-lane, single-span structure that opened in 1954. A second span, which became the southbound stretch, was added in 1971 — which Mr. Goodale had nothing to do with.
A few months after the Skyway disaster, Mr. Goodale went public with criticisms of the way the southbound span had been built. Overnight, he became a valued media source, a whistle-blower with close connections to the bridge.
He was equally critical of the new Sunshine Skyway bridge and swore he would never drive across it. Before construction was even halfway completed, Mr. Goodale began showing up at Department of Transportation meetings lugging 40 pounds of documents, which he said proved the new bridge was flawed.
Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology echoed some of his concerns. Transportation Department officials wished he would go away.
Mr. Goodale, a quixotic crusader for safety who built one Skyway bridge and tried to stop another, died April 30. He was 97.
"I came to respect and admire him for his integrity, his honesty and his willingness to tell the truth about a very sad chapter in Florida's history," said lawyer Steve Yerrid, who successfully represented Summit Venture pilot John Lerro in a negligence investigation. "He unraveled the mystery of how 35 people lost their lives."
In a public statement released three months after the tragedy, Mr. Goodale said he was speaking out because "withholding details would haunt me the rest of my life." He claimed that builders were under pressure not to exceed costs of the original bridge.
So they cut corners, he said, by using concrete instead of steel and driving support piers to a shallower depth than was used on the first bridge. He feared similar shortsightedness would doom the new bridge, too, and began sounding the alarm years before it was completed in 1987.
A New Jersey native, Mr. Goodale graduated from Newark College of Engineering in 1937. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy with the Seabees during World War II.
After the war, he married a longtime friend, Winifred Bryant. They lived in Annapolis, Md., and adopted two children. According to news accounts, Mr. Goodale designed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
The experience primed him for a job as project superintendent of a bridge spanning Pinellas and Manatee counties. The two-lane Sunshine Skyway bridge was finished in 1954. Mr. Goodale moved his family to Dunedin in 1957 and worked on a variety of heavy construction projects.
Alan Goodale, 56, described his father as "very quiet, a little bit cold." Apart from a bowling league and some volunteer work at Mease Hospital, neither Arthur nor Winifred Goodale did much socializing. She died in 1992.
Mr. Goodale was in Baltimore as the Skyway's second span was added. Still, he claimed to have inside information about the construction of the second span. When that span collapsed in 1980, he blamed cost-cutting measures, such as skimping on steel and support structures.
Loudly and publicly, he cited concerns about the new bridge including hairline cracks in the foundation, the use of Florida lime rock in the concrete and cold joints resulting from too much time elapsing between concrete pours in the same column.
"I think (transportation officials) are taking the safety of the bridge into their own hands," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1984. "It's a critical situation."
His worries quickly gained traction. Mr. Goodale became a go-to source for newspaper and television stories questioning the safety of the bridge.
MIT engineers seconded his objections about aggregate in the concrete and called for a redesign. Transportation Department officials affirmed Mr. Goodale's right to say whatever he wanted at meetings, but downplayed his concerns.
The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce launched an investigation using a panel of engineers, which determined that the foundations of the new bridge were sound.
Alan Goodale, who cared for his father the last 10 years of his life, said he thinks Mr. Goodale enjoyed the limelight and sometimes exaggerated his fears about the bridge. He drove over it numerous times, and never cautioned friends or family members from doing the same, his son said.
In recent years, Mr. Goodale talked increasingly about his role with the Skyway bridge.
"He liked to be called 'the bridge man,' " said Alan Goodale, an automotive technician. "The last couple of years, we'd go to a Sonny's (barbecue) restaurant and be ready to leave. The next thing, he's sitting down telling someone, 'I'm Art Goodale, I'm the bridge man.'
"That was his main thing. That's kind of what drove him. Very seldom could you get him to talk about any other subject."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]