Pinellas Bayway, St. Pete Beach-St. Petersburg
Opened in 1962, the Pinellas Bayway provides a link between St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach terminating at the world famous Don CeSar resort and its signature pink building. A spur of the Pinellas Bayway (FL 679) serves Tierra Verde as well as Ft. DeSoto Park.
The Pinellas Bayway is actually a system of bridges and causeways crossing Boca Ciega Bay. The western bridge is the drawbridge, while the middle and eastern bridge are fixed bridges. When the Pinellas Bayway opened in 1962 everything was all new as causeway fill was dredged to create the islands we know today.
Over the years condominium development shaped the Pinellas Bayway's future. The first development was Point Brittany on the island between the middle and eastern bridges. Then came more development and names like Isla Del Sol and Bacopa Bay began to sprout, not to mention the golf course that encircles Isla Del Sol. A strip shopping plaza was also constructed to meet the needs of the growing resident population living on the islands of the Pinellas Bayway.
The Pinellas Bayway was constructed as a two-lane bridge when it opened in 1962. In the mid-1980's traffic plus development on the Pinellas Bayway mandated the construction of a second span on both the middle and eastern bridges, turning the Pinellas Bayway into essentially a four-lane facility. However, the western drawbridge was not four laned. Work began in 2012 on replacing the western 1962 drawbridge with a high level fixed bridge, which was completed and dedicated in October 2014.
Toll to drive the Pinellas Bayway is 50 cents if you are headed to Tierra Verde or to St. Pete beach. An additional 35 cents is required if you are headed towards Ft. DeSoto Park. As I mentioned on the Tierra Verde Bridge page when the Bayway originally opened tolls were collected both at the Tierra Verde Bridge as well as the bridge before Ft. DeSoto Park; today tolls for those headed to Ft. DeSoto Park are only collected at the bridge before Ft. DeSoto Park. As the Pinellas Bayway is owned and operated by the Florida DOT, tolls can be paid by cash or SunPass; those who live on the islands of the Pinellas Bayway or Tierra Verde can qualify for a resident pass where for a fixed yearly fee those who live at Isla Del Sol, Point Brittany or Tierra Verde can use the Pinellas Bayway toll free.
A common misconception is that the 35 cent toll you pay to cross the bridge to Ft. DeSoto Park is actually a park admission fee. This is not the case. Beginning in January 2012 Pinellas County charges $5.00 per day for parking at Ft. DeSoto Park, which is collected after you pass the entrance for the campground. The 35 cent toll you pay goes to the Florida DOT and not to Pinellas County Government.
As mentioned previously the original 1962 drawbridge was replaced with a new fixed high level bridge in 2014. However, during the planning phase for the replacement bridge two sides - the City of St. Pete Beach and the City of St. Petersburg - argued with each other as to what to replace the bridge with: A fixed level high bridge? Or another drawbridge? First, St. Pete Beach argued that the Pinellas Bayway is a critical evacuation route during a hurricane evacuation, especially those who live in Pass-A-Grille and the Vina Del Mar island. Second, Isla Del Sol - which is in and a part of St. Petersburg - claims that the high level fixed bridge would obstruct their prized views of the beaches and the romantic sunsets. In the end, the Florida DOT sided with the interests of St. Pete Beach and decided on the high level fixed bridge.
Now that the original drawbridge has been replaced with the fixed high level bridge, the Pinellas Bayway will be around for many more years to come.