ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine Skyway bridge will shut down on a Sunday morning in March for a running race that is expected to draw up to 7,000 participants.
The Armed Forces Families Foundation announced the event, dubbed the "Skyway 10k Saluting Military Families," at a news conference on Wednesday.
The northbound lanes will close at 4 a.m. on March 4. The race will start at sunrise at the rest stop on the Manatee County side, and the bridge should re-open at 10 a.m.
"The Skyway is one of a kind," said James Judge, an event spokesman. "And undoubtedly, it will become an iconic race. Hopefully, a race that will happen for years to come."
About 4,000 vehicles use the northbound lanes of the bridge during those hours on a typical Sunday in March, said Kris Carson, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, which has signed off on the event.
FHP spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said he understands the inconvenience of closing down part of Interstate 275, which for some drivers could mean detouring about 40 additional miles through Tampa to get to downtown St. Petersburg.
"We don't do it lightly," he said Wednesday. "We will try to get that bridge open as soon as we can."
Shortly before the new bridge opened to traffic in 1987, runners crossed it in a dedication race. Pedestrians, however, are not normally allowed on the four-lane bridge, which does not have any sidewalks.
Judge said the group has agreed to re-imburse the state for all lost tolls, which will be about $5,500, according to FDOT. He hoped that drivers would be understanding as they try to raise $500,000 for military families.
"This is a wonderful event that the whole community is going to appreciate," he said. "Who can't agree with supporting armed forces and their families?"
On race day, runners will gather at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Buses will take them south across the bridge before they run north back to the rest area on the Pinellas County side of the bridge.
With a 4-percent grade, reaching 197 feet high, the road will pose a challenge for participants, said Dick Crippen, an advisor for the Tampa Bay Rays, a partner in the event.
"I think it's going to be a tough race," said Crippen, before adding that the views will make up for it.
St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said the event both serves as good exercise and supports a worthy cause.
"We hope that everyone within the sound of our voice makes it a point to be a part of this great race and help our families that do so much to help and serve our country," she said at the news conference.
"People will come from far and wide to be a part of history and to see the breathtaking views from atop the Skyway," Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said in a news release. "Best of all, the proceeds will go to benefit local veterans and their families."
Hillsborough's administrator, Mike Merrill, said runners will get "a rare opportunity" to enjoy the bridge up close and on foot.
The event is scheduled to go on rain or shine, Judge said. Participants and runners can register for $75 at skyway10k.com.
Contact Langston Taylor at email@example.com. Follow @langstonitaylor.