When drivers cross the Sunshine Skyway starting March 26, they will see the iconic structure illuminated in the colors of the American flag. It will be a major moment in a statewide effort to show unity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Beth Frady, communications director for the Florida Department of Transportation, the illumination could spread some unity in a time of stress and despair.
While an agency in tasked with widening highways and filling potholes may not be the first place the public turns when news takes such an emotional toll, Frady said officials there are anxious to do their part in healing the state.
“Many don’t see the human element to FDOT,” Frady said, “but while our facilities aren’t ones you can talk to, they can show our solidarity with citizens.”
Transportation officials have already programmed the lighting under the John Ringling Causeway in Sarasota to brighten the structure in red, white and blue. There, Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody has pushed for the project to move as the community deals with its first COVID-19 death, that of celebrated playwright Terrance McNally.
“The community needs this and appreciates it,” Brody wrote in an email to the transportation agency.
Brody had asked FDOT to light the Sarasota bridge, with the colors honoring not just but American unity but the individuals dealing with the pandemic. The red represents first responders, the white essential workforce and the blue medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic.
FDOT will also lighten the pedestrian bridge over International Speedway Boulevard in Daytona Beach, as well as an art feature and tunnel connecting the roadway and Interstate-95.
Every FDOT district right now is looking over its inventory of facilities to see where similar lighting can shine.
At least for now, the agency must work with facilities where lighting is already in place. Frady says new light installation would not be an easy project to undertake with limited staff and restrictions like social distancing.
Frankly, it’s not a prudent use of taxpayer dollars either, after state leaders just completed deep dive negotiations into the budget to deal with coronavirus response.
The Legislature ultimately set aside $52 million for direct response, but also $300 million in reserves for Gov. Ron DeSantis to tap. And DeSantis said he’s going to “let the budget sit” while contemplating if he needs to issue further line-item vetoes.
But the project seems a way to celebrate the strength of Florida with little cost and plenty of emotional value. And Frady said it’s a good way to honor the round-the-clock efforts to
“This is all really to honor and recognize those on the front lines of this,” Frady said, “who are making sacrifices day in and day out.”