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Why is the Bayside Bridge so bumpy? Florida Wonders explains.

The trip between St. Pete and Clearwater can be a bouncy one. Here’s why.
"Florida Wonders" is a new Tampa Bay Times series where readers can ask questions and we will answer them. [LISA MERKLIN | Logo design]

Welcome back to Florida Wonders, a series where Times journalists answer your questions.

This week, a reader submitted a question that has long plagued Pinellas County drivers: Why is the Bayside Bridge between St. Pete and Clearwater so bumpy?

Have something you’ve been wondering about the Tampa Bay area or Florida? Ask Florida Wonders.

Drivers who trek over this bridge have likely noticed their cars bobbing up and down. The road’s texture is especially noticeable at the beginning of the northbound span as motorists leave St. Petersburg.

The Bayside Bridge in Pinellas County during construction in 1992. Drivers were excited for another north south route through the county, east of U.S. 19. [Times (1992)]

Before the Bayside Bridge, crossing between north and south Pinellas County likely involved a trip across congested U.S. 19. When the 2.7-mile Bayside Bridge finally opened to motorists in 1993, it was greeted with fanfare.

The Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce even hosted a “Bayside Boogie” and allowed Floridians to traverse the bridge by foot. Motorists followed behind Sam Saporito, who also had been the first to cross the 1991 Howard Frankland span and both Sunshine Skyway bridges (old and new).

Excited drivers quickly noticed the bumpiness of the new bridge.

Ben Thomas of Largo and his dog Ernie take part in the "Bayside Bridge Boogie" walk. Others enjoyed 10K, 5k and 1 mile events across the new bridge. [Times (1993)]

Professional engineer Tony Horrnik has heard questions from concerned citizens ever since he started working for Pinellas County in 1998. He still gets calls from drivers who worry the bridge is going to come down.

The bridge gets inspected every two years. It’s safe, he says. It just isn’t flat.

The bridge is filled with a series of cambers, or arched concrete slabs that curve upward. When someone drives over the space in between these slabs, the weight should cause the curves to flatten, creating a smooth surface.

The beams within some portions of the Bayside Bridge curve up too much, which creates a bumpy surface instead of a smooth one.

It’s not clear what caused the overcambering, said David Deranzio, who works for Pinellas County as a section manager for roadway and bridge.

“Even if it’s off by a millimeter, you’re feeling it in the bridge.” Deranzio said. “It may have cured too fast before it’s settled. Or it could have just been that the mix was a little bit off in the concrete that caused it... It was something so fine, something so detailed that caused it to have that little bit of an arch in the bridge.”

Bayside Bridge looking north. [TIMES (1999) | Tampa Bay Times]

There have been discussions over the years about potential fixes for the bounce, Deranzio said. But there’s not much that would solve it. The concrete already has been cured, and repaving the road wouldn’t help.

“The conclusion was that it was going to be extremely expensive,” Horrnik said. “Really, you would spend all that money and not get any kind of benefit. It’s really not hurting the bridge at all.”

To reduce the effect, Horrnik suggests adhering to the 55 mph speed limit. But the bumps don’t bother him.

In fact, he enjoys driving over them.

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