Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

As 2009 draws to a close and 2010 is on the horizon, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year from Interstate275Florida.com and the Interstate 275 Florida Blog.

With New Years Eve quickly approaching and New Years Day on the horizon, there is going to be plenty of people out and about celebrating the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. However, the most common danger of New Years Eve as far as Interstate 275 is concerned is drinking and driving. Here is a comment I made to a story that Bay News 9 had on tips to celebrate New Years Eve safely (I have expanded on more information that you will only find on this blog entry), and I am posting this here as a public service:

If you plan on celebrating New Years Eve and plan on drinking, please either designate a driver, call a taxi to take you home or if you have a hotel room (or a friend's place) to spend the night, do so.

As this article on Bay News 9 proves, the Florida Highway Patrol (along with sheriffs and police agencies in the Tampa Bay region) will be patrolling major roads including Interstate 275. If you are caught, expect to ring in the new year wearing a pair of steel nickel plated handcuffs (double locked and behind your back), being placed in the back seat of the cruiser, and being transported to the county jail depending on where you are caught - at least until you are sober enough. That means you will not be able to bond out until you are sober enough.

The legal limit in the State of Florida is .08

Add to that fines, court costs, attorneys fees, driver license revocation, possible jail term depending on your record, and absolutely no withholding of adjudication of guilt - if you're caught and convicted, it will haunt your driving record for the rest of your life as Florida law prohibits judges from withholding adjudication of guilt on DUI.

Let's look at these a little closely with a little help from the folks over at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles at their DUI information page. This is if you are caught for the first time:

Fines: Not less than $500 and not more than $1,000. If you blow a .15 or more on the breathalyzer then the fines increase to not less than $1,000 and not more than $2,000. That's a couple car loan payments for starters.

Community Service: Mandatory 50 hours of community service or additional fine at the rate of $10 per hour. Imagine spending your weekends at some kind of community service project rather than doing something you like, and you got to work during the week.

Imprisonment: Up to 6 months in the county jail at the discretion of the judge. If you blow a .15 or more on the breathalyzer then it's up to 9 months. Do you want to spend half a year at least in a facility where your freedom of movement is restricted and in a jail cell? Those jail cell locks are not your typical house locks.

Probation: Up to one year, which can include a mixture of both imprisonment and probation.

DUI School: Mandatory DUI school before you get your drivers license back, no ifs, ands or buts. DUI school can be quite costly!

Impoundment of Motor Vehicle: Your vehicle is taken away from you for 10 days, and don't expect to get it back if the judge send you to jail for DUI. The 10 days start when you are released, not when you are sentenced. Imagine that luxury SUV you like so much is now impounded all because of your decision.

Property Damage: If you damage any property while you are under the influence, then the charges become a first degree Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in the county jail.

Bodily Injury as a result of DUI: Now we're talking serious Felony charges. Fines of up to $5,000 and/or up to five years in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. You got that right, state correctional institution.

Loss of Life as a result of DUI: This is a very serious matter here. Now we're talking second degree Felony charges with a $10,000 fine and/or 15 years in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections. This is DUI/Manslaughter. Just ask the man in Tampa who took my grandmother's life on 25 May 1990 on South Westshore Blvd and West Leila Avenue.

Drivers License: At least six months revocation of your driving privilege. That means your ticket to drive is taken away from you. However, if you are convicted of DUI/Manslaughter then the drivers license revocation is permanent.

Driving Record: If you are convicted of DUI, you are adjudicated guilty of DUI. That means you will have a DUI record for the rest of your life, as Florida law prohibits judges from withholding adjudication of guilt for any DUI offense. This means your insurance rates will go right through the roof, so much that some insurance companies have the right to refuse to insure you. This also means you can lose your job and have plenty of difficulty finding another job (after all, nearly all employment applications ask you if you have been convicted of a crime including DUI).

And one more thing, while we're on the subject of driving record and DUI: You will not be able to visit Canada for a period of time if you are convicted of DUI in Florida or another state. From what I understand DUI in Canada is an indictable (felony) offense. Want proof? See the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for more information on the impact of travel to Canada following a DUI conviction.

Finally, the cost of drunk driving can be a lot more than the Florida Highway Patrol trooper (or sheriff deputy or police officer) that arrests you and the jail, court date and fines/probation/jail that follow after conviction - it can be deadly and it can have lifetime consequences as described above.

Please, folks, do yourself a favor and if you had even one drink, don't get behind the wheel and drive! Let's start 2010 on the right note!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unsung Sunshine Skyway Hero

Writing a blog entry like this is a rare occurrence here at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. However, I came across this article in today's St. Petersburg Times about an unsung hero who saved a woman from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. In the spirit of the holiday season, this is an entry that brings out the hero in all of us.

According to the St. Petersburg Times article, a woman pulled over to the side in the emergency lane began leaning over the concrete Jersey barrier wall when a motorist pulled over and did everything to save this woman from jumping. Luckily, the Florida Highway Patrol came by and the story had a happy ending by saving the woman and taking her to St. Anthony's Hospital here in St. Petersburg for an evaluation per Florida's Baker Act.

Let me tell you after I read the article: This is Florida's Baker Act at its finest, doing what it was intended to do. Hopefully the woman who attempted to jump off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is getting the counseling she needs.

In this day and age of today's economy with people losing their jobs and losing their homes due to foreclosure, that plus the holiday season can drive a person over the edge. It is very sad that people who are in dire circumstances have to go to extremes like this.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is help out there.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis situation, here in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area dial 211 for information and referral to someone who can help. If you reside elsewhere, check your local telephone directory for the crisis intervention number in your area. However, in an extreme emergency you can always dial 911. Another resource would be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached toll free at 1 (800) 273-TALK 24/7/365.

For our Spanish speaking visitors: Para ayuda llame al 1 (888) 628-9454.

On the Sunshine Skyway Bridge there are a set of crisis counseling telephones mounted on the high level main span, three on the southbound lanes and three on the northbound lanes. Below these phones is a sign written in English and in Spanish that reads: "There is hope - make the call". These phones connect the caller to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa and the counselor answering the phone can immediately pinpoint where the caller is located so that a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can be dispatched to the caller's location on the Sunshine Skyway. After all, time is very crucial in an emergency situation.

As for the person who saved the woman from jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, who according to the St. Petersburg Times article is Guelmis Yanes, this person is a hero. This is heroism at its finest, especially around the Christmas holidays.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Videos Page at Interstate275Florida.com!

I know, it's been a while since I posted something recently here at the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. But I got not only one but two new features that I recently added to the site!

First of all, I have a new videos page here at Interstate275Florida.com for your viewing enjoyment. I started making a few videos earlier this year, starting with a video on Interstate 375 at Interstate 275 which was made after a March 2009 accident which took place in the same location where a tanker truck flipped over and caught fire in March 2007 which required the closure of the ramp for a month. Since then (and with a newer digital camera) I made a few more videos showing you the Interstate 275 experience both day and night. The videos can be found over at the new videos page here at Interstate275Florida.com.

OK, on to the second new feature. It's not exactly a new feature so to speak but it is Interstate275Florida.com in general. If you have probably seen by now all the photo galleries have been replaced by thumbnail photos followed by the description to the right of the photo (you can see an example here). Like in the previous version if you want to see the full size photo simply click on the thumbnail and the photo will open up in a new window.

Now if you're wondering why Interstate275Florida.com has not been updated in a while, it was because I spent a few months recoding the HTML from a Microsoft FrontPage feature to a feature that I can edit on my own. Besides, more and more web hosting providers - including the web host that provides hosting for not only Interstate275Florida.com but EdwardRingwald.com as well - are discontinuing support for FrontPage Server Extensions, and the photo galleries that were previously used depended on the web host supporting FrontPage Server Extensions. So, rather than paying a web design service an outrageous amount of money (and to mention what kind of finished product you'll get) I recoded the HTML myself so that the photo galleries don't have to depend on the FrontPage Server Extensions.

Hopefully you'll enjoy the new features and updates I put into Interstate275Florida.com and feel free to leave me a comment if you so desire.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Southbound Howard Frankland is closed: What to do?

In light of a major accident that happened on Sunday afternoon, 27 September 2009, that closed Interstate 275 at the Howard Frankland Bridge the variable message signs were informing motorists headed south on Interstate 275 towards St. Petersburg to use FL 60/Spruce Street.

For your information, the Florida DOT has this information wrong. Yes you could use FL 60 but you will end up taking a roundabout detour across the Courtney Campbell Causeway and eventually into St. Petersburg by way of Clearwater. You got that right - head through Clearwater.

But you do not want to go to Clearwater. You want to go to St. Petersburg.

You are on southbound Interstate 275 and you just passed downtown Tampa which provides access to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and to the Gandy Bridge. Or, you are at Tampa International Airport and you are stuck not wondering what to do.

OK.

I am going to give you a secret as to how to get to St. Petersburg from Tampa in case the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed without having to backtrack into downtown Tampa to catch the Crosstown. It’s easy.

First, for those of you on southbound Interstate 275 and the variable message signs tell you the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed and you are getting very close to the last exit in Tampa, Exit 39. Take Exit 40A, which is Westshore Blvd., and head south. Westshore goes into a two lane road south of Kennedy Blvd. but follow Westshore all the way to Gandy Blvd., a distance of about two or three miles. Take a right on Gandy and follow Gandy across the Gandy Bridge into St. Petersburg. Once across the Gandy Bridge continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 and reenter Interstate 275 from there. Sounds good enough?

Second, for those of you coming out of Tampa International Airport and you find that the Florida Highway Patrol has closed the entrance ramp to southbound Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg, here’s what to do. You will see signage for FL 616, which is eastbound Spruce Street – exit onto Spruce Street and head east for about a mile to Westshore Blvd. Turn right onto Westshore Blvd. and head south; you will go under Interstate 275 and pass Kennedy Blvd. and Westshore Plaza on the right but you want to keep heading south on Westshore Blvd. As mentioned previously Westshore goes into a two lane road south of Kennedy Blvd. but follow Westshore all the way to Gandy Blvd., a distance of about two or three miles. Take a right on Gandy and follow Gandy across the Gandy Bridge into St. Petersburg. Once across the Gandy Bridge continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 and reenter Interstate 275 from there. Sounds better?

Now you have the secret in case the Howard Frankland Bridge southbound is closed and you are too far from the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa: Westshore Blvd. and Gandy Blvd. And believe me, if you are headed towards St. Petersburg from Tampa it’s much quicker than following the “recommended” detour through Clearwater courtesy of the Florida DOT.

And one more thing. Remember to check your speed when traveling Westshore Blvd., especially the section south of Kennedy Blvd. to Gandy Blvd. The speed limit is 30 mph and the men and women in blue of the Tampa Police Department enforce the speed limit. That means if you use Westshore Blvd. as a detour please be respectful of the neighborhood as you pass through.

The same thing goes for Gandy Blvd. and the Gandy Bridge: The speed limits on Gandy Blvd. are enforced not only by Tampa PD on the Tampa end but also by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on the St. Petersburg end (the St. Petersburg end is unincorporated Pinellas County until just before 4 St N). So please watch your speed and allow extra time if Interstate 275 at the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed.

Finally, I feel that commuter rail utilizing the center of Interstate 275 is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity if the Tampa Bay area as a region wants to succeed when America pulls itself out of the current recession. No matter why more prominent companies will not relocate to the Tampa Bay area due to inept mass transit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

This morning (Friday, 18 September 2009) I was reading the article on Bay News 9's web site about the overnight closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to someone making a bomb hoax on a CB radio. When I was reading the article I saw a link to more info on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and - to my surprise - my page on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the Interstate275Florida.com site. A special thank you goes out to Bay News 9 for the link to my site!

Now let me talk to you about a very serious subject: Bomb hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Before I go on further, let me tell you that making false reports about destructive devices on public property in the State of Florida is not only morally wrong, it is illegal and a second degree felony pursuant to Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes. Besides, the court can require the perpetrator to reimburse the law enforcement agency or agencies that were involved in investigating a false report so made.

Back before the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987, the old Sunshine Skyway has had its share of bomb hoaxes, especially from after the 9 May 1980 incident to the day the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987. For a while there were a rash of bomb hoaxes; the perpetrators (this was back in the older days before telephone tracing equipment got more sophisticated) would telephone the Sunshine Skyway toll facility rather than law enforcement or 911 in the hopes of evading detection and not being caught. According to several St. Petersburg Times articles after the hoax calls were getting out of control to the point that telephone tracing equipment was installed to track callers. Soon after the tracing equipment was installed it proved helpful in tracking down and arresting a teenager who called in a false bomb hoax report regarding the Sunshine Skyway.

After all, if you have the occasion to call your local police department or 911 your call is not only traced it is also recorded. If you happen to live in Verizon territory where Verizon is your local telephone provider you have an option to trace a telephone call for a per use charge; the trace records are only released to a law enforcement agency and is very helpful if you are receiving harassing or threatening telephone calls.

Over the past 20 years or so telephone tracing equipment has gotten technologically advanced. Most of us have a feature that acts as a "peephole" for your telephone and that is called Caller ID. Some telephone providers have gone a step further; you can listen to your voicemails and find out who called you all on your computer.

In the recent bomb hoax scare that closed the Sunshine Skyway, the perpetrator did not use a telephone according to Bay News 9. Instead, the caller used an older form of chat room technology long before there was the Internet, and that is CB Radio. Telephone calls are easy to trace, while CB Radio transmissions are believed to be harder to trace. One way to find out where a radio transmission is coming from is to use a device called a direction finder; this is used by the FCC to aid them in locating unlicensed radio stations. On the flip side of the coin, telephone conversations are private in general while radio transmissions can be heard by anyone with the right equipment.

Anytime the Sunshine Skyway is closed, especially in both directions - whether it may be a suicidal person or a bomb hoax - it creates an economic hardship for everyone in the Tampa Bay area as those who live in St. Petersburg and want to go to Bradenton or Sarasota and vice versa must make the 50+ mile detour across the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridges into Tampa and follow Interstate 75 to their destination should the Sunshine Skyway be closed. Also remember too that while the Sunshine Skyway bridge is principally under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Florida Highway Patrol as the Sunshine Skyway is part of Interstate 275, there are not two but three counties the Sunshine Skyway is a part of: Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee.

Now you are asking yourself, why Hillsborough County? That's a very good question! The center high rise section of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is in Hillsborough County, a vestige of how Hillsborough County extended to the gulf beaches before Pinellas County was created in 1912.

Now if a high profile incident involves the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol gets involved as the lead law enforcement agency, as well as the sheriff's offices of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and even the St. Petersburg Police Department as well. And we can't forget to mention a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: The United States Coast Guard. Now talk about a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional nightmare if the Sunshine Skyway had to be closed for any reason; if it takes place during the day (and especially during the morning or afternoon commute) it would be a bigger nightmare.

That means whoever makes a report of a bomb hoax involving the Sunshine Skyway will not only face a felony conviction (and absolutely no withhold of adjudication per Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes) including fines and time in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in a state correctional institution, the court can order the perpetrator to make restitution for the trouble caused as a result of the false report.

Hopefully law enforcement will catch whoever committed this act and the person(s) who committed this act will face severe consequences. As it was part of the theme of a TV show in the 1970's, "if you can't pay the time don't do the crime".

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Back to School Time!

Starting Tuesday, 25 August 2009, children will be heading back to school in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. What is this going to mean for you? School zones and 15 mph speed limits as well as the many school buses on the roads as you make your way to work or wherever you need to be.

Please, when you approach any of these school zones – especially the one on 54 Av N east of Interstate 275 (Exit 26) next to Sexton Elementary School, Northeast High School or Meadowlawn Middle School (Meadowlawn is on 16 St N north of Northeast High) here in St. Petersburg – slow down and reduce your speed to the posted speed limit for the school zone. That cell phone conversation can wait until you arrive at your destination; your primary concern is the safety of our children on their way to learn.

Being in a hurry to be somewhere is no excuse for speeding in a school zone. In Florida, the fines are pretty steep – speeding fines are doubled for speeding in school zones, as well as construction zones and toll plazas. If you are caught doing 30 mph or over in a posted school zone you are looking at a fine of at least $555.50. Talk about a car loan payment!

While we’re on the subject of back to school, here’s another area we need to address while you make your way to work: School buses.

When you transition off of Interstate 275 and onto the local streets, you will more than likely encounter a few school buses on your way to your destination. But what if that school bus has to stop to pick up children on their way to school and the school bus driver turns on the flashing red lights and extends the stop sign from the bus? Well, here’s the lowdown on what to do if you encounter a stopped school bus with its flashers on and stop sign extended.

According to Section 316.172 of the Florida Statutes, traffic in either direction must stop when a school bus is stopped. The only exceptions are if you are traveling in the opposite direction of the school bus and the roadway is separated by a unpaved median of at least 5 feet or a physical barrier between the roadways.

As I mentioned earlier regarding school zones, being in a hurry is no excuse for not stopping for a school bus. In Florida, the fines are steep for not stopping for a school bus, and if you are caught passing a stopped school bus on the side where children are entering or exiting the bus, you will be subjected to a mandatory court hearing which can result in steep fines being imposed among other things. Again, that cell phone conversation can wait until you have arrived at your destination; safety comes first before anything else.

Now that our children are returning to school, please be careful out there!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Live in Central Pinellas County?

If you are one of those Interstate 275 commuters that live in central Pinellas County and work in downtown St. Petersburg, you know that you can go east on CR 296 all the way to 31st Court North where you can get onto Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg as well as Tampa. It sure beats using congested Roosevelt Blvd. any day since the ramps to CR 296 opened in September 2002.

Now if you are headed home after a tough day at the office in downtown St. Petersburg, you know that you cannot directly get on to CR 296 to head west towards Pinellas Park, Seminole or Largo. Instead, you have to get off at FL 686 (westbound Roosevelt Blvd., Exit 30) and do a quick merge into the left lane once you are on Roosevelt in order to turn left onto 28 St N, as this is the only way from Interstate 275 south to westbound CR 296. Besides, you are stuck in the traffic light queue making the left turn from Roosevelt Blvd. to 28 St N. Sounds like a long commute going home?

Well, that is about to change. If you have seen the construction signs around the vicinity of Exit 30 on Interstate 275 this is because the Florida DOT just recently started on a project to connect southbound Interstate 275 directly into CR 296 and at the same time have traffic free flow onto CR 296 westbound.

Now what does this mean for you?

If you like the convenience of entering Interstate 275 from CR 296, that’s great. Now you’ll get a better convenience of exiting northbound Interstate 275 onto westbound CR 296 without the hassle of being stuck in afternoon rush hour traffic on Roosevelt Blvd. After you pass the split for FL 686 you go on a westbound dedicated ramp that was constructed in 1970 which takes you high over Interstate 275 (in fact, the greatest height on this ramp is 31 feet 2 inches as you cross the exit ramps for Exit 30 from southbound Interstate 275!). As you get ready to make the downhill descent towards Roosevelt Blvd. there will be another split, one for Roosevelt Blvd. westbound and the other to connect into CR 296 westbound.

The new CR 296 westbound ramp will take you over Roosevelt Blvd. and then connect into the existing CR 296 westbound coming from southbound Interstate 275. But that’s not all.

You will be able to free flow into CR 296 by way of an overpass that will carry you over the eastbound lanes of CR 296 and that will take you west towards Pinellas Park, Seminole or Largo. CR 296 has three names that we St. Petersburg and Pinellas County area residents know: 118 Av N, Bryan Dairy Road and 102 Av N. Seminole is connected by way of a new high level bridge spanning Lake Seminole that opened in the mid-1990’s.

As for the flow of eastbound CR 296 to Interstate 275, I am not sure if it will allow free flow from eastbound CR 296 to Interstate 275 without having to make the sharp turn at 30th Court North as it is present practice. But it would be nice for eastbound CR 296 motorists headed towards Interstate 275 to have a free flow movement rather than a stop and go at the traffic signal at 31st Court North.

According to the Florida DOT, construction on this much needed improvement is expected to be wrapped up by Spring 2012. For those that are anxious to see this improvement done, we are going to have to put up with inconveniences that go with any road improvement project: Barrels, barricades, reduced speed, speeding fines doubled in construction zones, and Florida Highway Patrol presence. But in the end, you will have a better way to get to the office in downtown St. Petersburg in the morning and a better way to get home after a long day. It will be inconvenient at first but we’ll have something better in the long run.

In the meantime, feel free to check out my Exit 30 page over in the St. Petersburg section at Interstate275Florida.com. It's worth taking a look!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Old Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Recently I came across a blog on abandoned bridges and stuff on a Google search. From time to time I like to run a Google search on things related to Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area to see the results; most of the time I see stuff related to Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area which links to Interstate275Florida.com.

The blog is called Structural Descent, which is an urban exploration photography of abandoned places and objects done by Richard Rizzo. I haven’t gone through the entire blog yet, but if you are looking for pictures of abandoned places and infrastructure Richard’s blog is a great place to start.

Now on to the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

I was looking at Richard’s photo of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge which was taken in 1986 using 35 mm slide film at the blog entry. The photo is very superb knowing the fact that digital photography as we know it today has not been introduced yet. In the photo you see the damaged support pier on the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway as well as the four main channel piers in the background.

Now I would like to give you a backgrounder on the old Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span support piers, in particular the piers that were damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident with the Summit Venture. We’ll first start with the pier that was directly impacted by the Summit Venture.

The support pier directly impacted in the 9 May 1980 accident is an anchor pier which holds the south cantilever in place and is a transition from through truss to deck truss. On the two lane roadway it is clearly demarcated by an expansion joint as well as the bridge railing changing from concrete 1954 style railings (after all, the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway was based on its 1954 northbound counterpart) to steel railings that are commonly seen on many drawbridges leading to the Pinellas beaches. This pier is called Pier 2-S, which is the second pier south of the main shipping channel.

I believe the top of the pier that was damaged in the 1980 accident was sheared off and went into the water intact upon impact. After all, you have a heavy vessel such as the Summit Venture (even though it was empty coming into the Port of Tampa) and that support pier could not withstand the impact when the ship made contact. After all, Pier 2-S was placed out of the way of shipping traffic and I believe it was not designed to withstand a direct hit from ocean going vessels such as the Summit Venture.

Right after impact Pier 2-S sank all the way to the bottom of Tampa Bay while at the same time the section of deck truss to the next support pier, Pier 3-S, came crashing into the water and landed with the roadway tilted to the side towards the northbound span. I believe that the top of the pier still rests on the bottom of Tampa Bay where it came to rest after impact even to this day creating a mini-fishing reef. Parts of the deck and through truss landed on the bow of the Summit Venture and the gash that you may have seen in St. Petersburg Times photos on the right hand side of the bow I believe were the result of the impact with Pier 2-S, which set off a chain reaction that ended with 35 people losing their lives on that stormy morning.

Now we’ll go over to the main channel pier which is just north of the support pier that held up the majority of the southbound span until the 9 May 1980 accident. That pier is called Pier 1-S, which is the pier immediately on the south side of the shipping channel. This pier was damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident but it remained standing and it would be an icon of the old Sunshine Skyway for years to come until the new Sunshine Skyway was built.

There are four main channel piers that held up the old Sunshine Skyway, which for many years performed their duty of supporting a major bridge that carried traffic between St. Petersburg and Bradenton from 1954 to 1987. One has to admire the architecture that went into the design and construction of all four main channel piers of the old Sunshine Skyway, including me. However, Pier 1-S’ architecture was much different than the three other main channel piers which made this pier distinct for many years, even after the 9 May 1980 accident. How did Pier 1-S become so different?

We need to go back to 1967, when construction on the old southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway began. The main channel piers on either side of the shipping channel were constructed identically to their 1954 counterparts (in fact, the southbound span was constructed identically to the 1954 northbound span). However, two years later in 1969, workers constructing the southbound span noticed something wrong with the main channel pier that had the potential of delaying the project.

It is believed that the pilings that hold up the main channel piers on either side of the shipping channel were made of concrete – the same concrete pilings that you see on most other Tampa Bay area bridges including the Gandy Bridge – and were not driven far enough to reach limestone. By comparison the main channel piers for the 1954 northbound span were made of steel with the endings shaped like the letter H and were indeed driven into the bottom of Tampa Bay until the pilings rested on limestone bedrock.

In the case of Pier 1-S on the southbound span, the combination of concrete pilings and inadequate depth is what is believed to cause the serious cracking. So, the Florida DOT spent about $3,000,000 to have the pier repaired in place. Sure the pier could have been replaced completely but that would have been more expensive; besides, the Florida DOT needed that southbound span as soon as possible due to increasingly heavy traffic on the two lane northbound span.

Here is what I believe had to be done to repair Pier 1-S in order to open the southbound span of the old Sunshine Skyway for travel. First, steel pilings were driven immediately adjacent to the base of Pier 1-S and then the pilings were encased with concrete, creating the larger base than the other three channel piers. Next, the top of the pier was encased in a rectangular block I believe in order to reset the two large supporting legs that hold up Pier 1-S.

With the repairs made to Pier 1-S, its appearance and architectural look was drastically different than the other three main channel piers, which gave Pier 1-S the signature look on the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span. The main channel pier on the southbound span immediately north of the main shipping channel, Pier 1-N, was believed to be in pretty good shape. After all, Pier 1-N’s architectural look was identical to the two main channel piers that hold up the northbound span.

In the 9 May 1980 accident, it is believed that Pier 1-S was the first pier to be hit by the Summit Venture. Unlike the support pier to the south, Pier 1-S is a main channel pier which could resist impact by ships thanks to its design. Luckily, the Summit Venture was headed into the Port of Tampa with an empty cargo hold; I am not sure how Pier 1-S would have held up if the Summit Venture was carrying a full load.

In the months and years following the 9 May 1980 Sunshine Skyway tragedy Pier 1-S became an icon associated with the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge in its own right. It represented more like a statue rather than a bridge support pier which was supposed to carry southbound traffic from St. Petersburg to Bradenton.

Right after the 9 May 1980 Sunshine Skyway tragedy the Florida DOT wanted to get the southbound span repaired and back in service. Such repairs I believe would be done using the remnants of the southbound span excluding Pier 1-S and Pier 2-S, which would have been completely replaced. However, things took a turn in another direction – with the blessing of then-Florida Governor Bob Graham - which resulted in the construction of a new Sunshine Skyway Bridge that we Floridians can cherish for the future. Not only the new Sunshine Skyway is a signature icon of the Tampa Bay area, it also heralded the completion of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area which makes 59 miles of driving and commuting pleasure for residents of the Tampa Bay region.

Once the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened in 1987, Pier 1-S and Pier 1-N – the two main channel piers that held up both the 1954 northbound and 1971 southbound spans of the old Sunshine Skyway – were retired from service. The old Sunshine Skyway was demolished in 1991, including all four channel piers and the damaged Pier 2-S that was damaged in the 9 May 1980 accident. Today all that’s left of the old Sunshine Skyway are fishing piers.

Now for an anecdote on the tall channel piers that held up the old Sunshine Skyway.

Although the old Sunshine Skyway and its tall channel piers are gone, it is a reminder of the tragedy that took place and the triumph that came several years later when the new Sunshine Skyway opened which is today a signature icon of the Tampa Bay area as a region. After all, we mourn when tragedy strikes and we celebrate when we accomplish triumph.

There is already a memorial at the north Sunshine Skyway rest area, but it is not a memorial to the 35 people who gave their lives that fateful morning on 9 May 1980. This memorial is a tribute to a tragedy that took place earlier on 28 January 1980 when the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with the tanker Capricorn in Tampa Bay west of the old Sunshine Skyway.

Now here’s an idea for a memorial to the 35 people who tragically lost their lives on that fateful morning of Friday, 9 May 1980: An obelisk-type monument being a scaled down replica of the two main channel piers that held up the southbound main span of the old Sunshine Skyway and a plaque in the center that would have an appropriate inscription.

If you haven’t been by the Sunshine Skyway page over at Interstate275Florida.com, feel free to stop by and take a look. I am planning to add more historical photos of the old Sunshine Skyway in the not too distant future, so I need your help! If you happen to have any historical photos of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge – especially construction on the 1954 and 1971 spans as well as the tragedy on 9 May 1980 and afterward, please let me know by posting a reply or contacting me via the feedback page here at Interstate275Florida.com. If your photo is used I will give you full credit.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa on new alignment

If you have been by northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) to Downtown Tampa (Exit 44), things look a lot different! In fact, it almost looks like Interstate 4 in Tampa which has been recently reconstructed not too long ago.

In the early morning hours of Saturday, 25 April 2009, the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa from Himes Avenue to Downtown Tampa were transitioned over to a new alignment (or a new traffic pattern). Here are some pictures I got on Saturday afternoon, several hours after the alignment switch took place.



Here are one of many variable message signs in St. Petersburg warning motorists of the new traffic pattern in place on northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa and that major delays are possible. After all, the Florida DOT did not want to take any chances.



Next we see one of the many new signage erected for Exit 42, Armenia and Howard Avenues. This is on the temporary transition road that takes northbound Interstate 275 motorists from the old northbound lanes to the new northbound lanes.



Continuing on the new alignment for northbound Interstate 275 we see new signage for the exit to Armenia and Howard Avenues as well as the distances to Downtown Tampa (via Exit 44, Ashley Drive and Scott/Tampa Streets) and Interstate 4. Notice that the signs are mounted on a new gantry just like what was done on Interstate 275 at Interstate 4 as well as Interstate 4 east of Interstate 275. Here motorists are reminded that the right lane is an exit lane for Armenia and Howard Avenues.



Next we see the final opportunity for Armenia and Howard Avenues from northbound Interstate 275. Notice that this exit has two lanes rather than the original one lane exit and it is a dedicated ramp rather than the side street you had to enter right after you exit in the past.



We're now past Armenia and Howard Avenues and our next exit is Downtown Tampa (which is signed simply as Downtown, Exit 44) coming up in one mile, while the entrance to eastbound Interstate 4 (Exit 45B) is coming up in two miles. Right after this sign gantry things on northbound Interstate 275 level out better than the old "roller coaster" effect of the old northbound lanes.



We're now getting our first destinations for Downtown West on Exit 44. As the sign indicates, use Tampa Street to reach the Tampa Convention Center or Ashley Drive to reach the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Notice that the sign gantry is a little different here as it is supposed to accommodate a future variable message sign similar to the variable message signs found on Interstate 275 not only in Tampa but St. Petersburg as well. I got to agree here, this sign mounted on an overhead gantry is much easier to read and interpret than its ground based counterpart on the old northbound lanes.



Next up is Downtown East, also on Exit 44. Use Scott Street to reach the St. Petersburg Times Forum (shortened on the sign to St. Pete Times Forum) as well as the Florida Aquarium located in the Channelside area. Once you get off onto Scott Street, follow it east until you get to Jefferson Street. Right on Jefferson Street and follow the signs for the St. Petersburg Times Forum and/or the Florida Aquarium.

Another note as we go along: Why did the Florida DOT construct a retaining wall to the right on the new Interstate 275 northbound lanes? The view of Downtown Tampa was splendid on the old Interstate 275 northbound lanes.



Here's the intermediate signage for Downtown Tampa. Presently the "exit only" panels have been greened out as a temporary measure as construction is still taking place (as of April 2009) so that the lanes can be marked as through traffic lanes. When this is all said and done, when you get to this sign gantry you will choose which Downtown Tampa destination you are headed to. But I got to admit, this new segment of Interstate 275 in Tampa is much better than the old segment due to the "roller coaster" effect which was how the original highway was built back in the early 1960's. After all, modern Interstate highway construction of the 21st Century incorporates a smooth ride by design which also makes the highway safer for everyone.



Finally, we come to our last overhead sign which was erected as part of the new northbound Interstate 275 project. Here we see the final opportunity for Downtown Tampa with its two lanes (one lane for Scott Street and the other lane for Ashley Drive and Tampa Street). Like the previous photo, the "exit only" panels have been greened out as a temporary measure until the construction is finished. Interstate 4 is just around the corner after this exit and we also see through signage for northbound Interstate 275 to Ocala, which is via Interstate 275's parent, Interstate 75.

Again, I got to admit the signage on the new northbound Interstate 275 alignment is much better to read and better to interpret than the old. On the older signage the messages seem to be crammed together.

Now this new alignment of northbound Interstate 275 is part of a major Interstate 275 reconstruction puzzle which will run from the Tampa International Airport exit (Exit 39, FL 60) all the way to Downtown Tampa at Exit 44. However, the old Interstate 275 northbound lanes will be getting some temporary use: The old northbound lanes will soon become the temporary southbound lanes for Interstate 275 while the permanent southbound lanes for Interstate 275 are being reconstructed. If you have seen a fence on the stub end of the new northbound Interstate 275 alignment at Himes Avenue, the fence is not permanent - west of Himes Avenue will be another segment of a reconstructed Interstate 275.

When all the pieces of the Interstate 275 reconstruction puzzle in Tampa from Tampa International Airport to Downtown Tampa are done, Interstate 275 will have a total of eight lanes - four lanes in either direction. To keep up with the progress of Interstate 275 in Tampa as it is slowly being reconstructed you may want to visit the Florida DOT's site for Interstate construction in the Tampa Bay area, mytbi.com.

And one more thing: Keep an eye out on your speed while traversing the construction zones on Interstate 275. The Florida Highway Patrol is very keen about enforcing the speed limits and speeding fines are doubled for exceeding the speed limit in a construction zone, especially when construction workers are present.

The pictures you see here today will eventually make it onto the Interstate275Florida.com website soon. However, it is having to undergo more recoding as my web hosting provider is discontinuing support for the FrontPage Server Extensions and the photos - organized as a photo gallery which indeed depends on the FrontPage Server Extensions - will have to be recoded in HTML. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures and feel free to comment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interstate 275 Tampa Major Congestion Alert

If you plan on using northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from the Tampa International Airport interchange (Exit 39) to Downtown Tampa (Exit 44), you need to read this blog entry carefully. This weekend (24 through 26 April 2009) will see expected major congestion on northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa, with congestion at times extending across the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg.

In a previous blog post the new northbound lanes of Interstate 275 from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) to Downtown Tampa (Exit 44) are scheduled to open to traffic. However, making a traffic switch is not your typical traffic switch as certain activities such as paving can only be done when traffic is actually switch from the old to the new northbound lanes. In fact, just recently we have seen the exit ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to Tampa International Airport (TIA) closed periodically throughout the weekend in order to perform construction related tasks that cannot be done when you got traffic flowing through on the highway; this closure brought about detours and inconvenience for those headed to TIA.

Before I go on further, let me give you some words of advice if you plan on using northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa this weekend: If your travel plans don’t include using Interstate 275 northbound this weekend, plan on finding a different route. If you plan on catching a flight at Tampa International Airport, leave earlier than usual.

If you are headed to Downtown Tampa or anywhere east of Tampa (including Interstate 4 and Orlando including the theme parks), a great alternative route would be Gandy Blvd. (US 92) via the Gandy Bridge to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Follow the Selmon Crosstown Expressway east and that will take you to Downtown Tampa (Exits 6A/B) and Ybor City (Exit 9). If you are headed towards Interstate 4 and Orlando, stay on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway until you get to Interstate 75; north on Interstate 75 for about 4 miles to Interstate 4. Once you are on Interstate 4 east from Interstate 75 north that will take you out of the congestion expected on Interstate 275 north in Tampa this weekend. Remember, the Crosstown Expressway is a toll road so have cash or your SunPass handy; believe me, the toll is well worth it.

Again, if you must use Interstate 275 north in Tampa this weekend, leave earlier than usual. This is very important if you are headed to Tampa International Airport to catch a flight.

Now the schedule of events that will take place on Interstate 275 in Tampa in the vicinity of the new northbound lanes over the course of this weekend according to the Florida DOT:

Traffic impacts to northbound Interstate 275 will begin at 9 PM on Friday, 24 April 2009.

From 8 PM Friday (24 April 2009) to 8 AM Saturday (25 April 2009) the entrance to northbound Interstate 275 from Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41) will be closed. Best to use Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) or Howard Avenue (Exit 42) to reach northbound Interstate 275.

9 PM Friday (24 April 2009): Of Interstate 275’s three northbound lanes, one or two will be closed from Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) to Downtown Tampa (Exit 44). Additionally, at Exit 44 the ramps to Ashley Drive or Scott Street will be closed until 5:30 AM Saturday morning; traffic will be detoured to whatever Exit 44 ramp is open (in other words, if Ashley is closed traffic will be diverted onto Scott and vice versa).

Traffic should be shifted to the new northbound Interstate 275 lanes by Saturday morning. However, the new northbound lanes will be in a two lane northbound configuration until around 5:30 AM Monday, 27 April 2009.

Even when the new northbound lanes are fully opened in their three lane northbound configuration Monday morning, there will be no additional planned lanes until this coming Fall as additional widening has to take place. As a result, motorists will see three northbound lanes on the new segment of Interstate 275 of varying widths and trucks will see a restriction to use only the middle lane. Moreover, the speed limit will be reduced to 45 mph until the project is completed; expect heavy Florida Highway Patrol presence as speeding fines are doubled within construction work zones.

Also as a part of this major traffic switch this weekend the northbound ramp onto Interstate 275 from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) is scheduled to re-open on Monday, 27 April 2009.

Once again, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of finding an alternative route this weekend if your travel plans include northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from TIA to Downtown Tampa. Moreover, if you must use northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa this weekend – such as catching a flight out of Tampa International Airport – please leave earlier than usual. Gandy and the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a great alternative to avoid the expected mass congestion on northbound Interstate 275 this weekend.

After all, making improvements to Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area will mean inconveniences for you and me from time to time. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that will be an improved Interstate 275.

And by the way, if you get caught in the expected mass congestion on northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa please let me know by posting your experiences.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Did the Interstate 375 ramp get fixed – or what?

If you have not been by southbound Interstate 275 at the entrance to Interstate 375 lately you may have noticed some differences in the way you are warned just as you get on the high ramp flyover from the left lane. I was surprised when I saw the improvements but these improvements are not enough – yet.

When you are in the left lane to transition from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375, you are greeted by two kinds of signage recently erected by the good old folks over at the Florida DOT. Here is a description of the signage as you make the transition from Interstate 275 south to Interstate 375 east:

1. On the left side of the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 as you get ready to pass the final overhead sign gantry for Interstate 375, you see a diamond shaped yellow warning sign which is ground mounted. That sign indicates that you are approaching a 50 mph speed zone.



2. Right after you pass the final opportunity for Interstate 375 east from Interstate 275 south, you are greeted by not one but two signs that flank either side of the two lane exit ramp carrying eastbound Interstate 375 traffic: Speed limit 50 mph signs, and this time these signs are regulatory (black text on a white background). In other words, the Exit 50 mph black on yellow advisory signage has been removed.



3. New reflectors mounted on the right hand Jersey barrier wall as you navigate the flyover onto eastbound Interstate 375. These delineate where the Jersey barrier wall is.

So, did the Florida DOT do something to address this increasingly dangerous ramp? The signage is good but not good enough.

In fact, there was a recent article by none other than Drew Harwell at the St. Petersburg Times that briefly explains the improvements done by the Florida DOT. After I have read the article, more work needs to be done – in fact, major work needs to be done to fix this ramp.

More signage needs to be placed in addition to the rudimentary 50 mph ahead and speed limit signage. Over in Tampa at Exit 39 from Interstate 275 southbound there are large warning signs erected with the graphic of the tipping truck because of the design of the ramp which does indeed command reduced speed.

So, here’s my “laundry list” of improvements that the Florida DOT needs to make in the short and mid-term for the dangerous Interstate 375 flyover in downtown St. Petersburg. Hey, Florida DOT, are you reading this?

1. Place an Interstate 375 shield assembly just above the 50 mph ahead warning sign. That way, it lets motorists know that the speed reduction applies only to those motorists who are headed onto eastbound Interstate 375 from southbound Interstate 275.

2. Place yellow warning beacons on top of the Speed Limit 50 signage that was recently erected as an emphasis to let motorists know of the utmost need to reduce speed. After all, there is another set of yellow warning beacons at the end of Interstate 375 where all eastbound traffic is defaulted onto 4 Av N and the speed limit is further reduced to 30 mph.

Now let me emphasize this item a little further. Back when the advisory signage on yellow background was posted the Florida Highway Patrol could not write tickets for anyone going over the 50 mph advisory speed limit on the Interstate 375 flyover. Why? That advisory signage on yellow background was purely advisory in nature and it did not carry the full force and effect of Section 316.183 of the Florida Statutes. In essence, the 65 mph speed limit from Interstate 275 still applied to the Interstate 375 flyover until just before you reach the first sign gantry on eastbound Interstate 375; you had (and still have today) Speed Limit 50 signs flanking either side of the eastbound lanes. Now that the Speed Limit 50 signs have been erected before the flyover, the Florida Highway Patrol can now enforce the reduced speed limit on the flyover and hand out traffic tickets for anyone caught going way too fast on the flyover ramp.

If we step on over to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices – the MUTCD for short – we can understand what the color backgrounds of traffic signs in the USA mean. Yellow coveys a warning message just like the message of the diamond shaped sign before you approach a drawbridge (and the sign is basically the same name, Draw Bridge Ahead), while white conveys a regulatory message informing motorists what can or cannot be done just like the speed limit message. Notice for a moment the meaning of a sign on a white background; it conveys that a certain traffic law which is the subject of the traffic sign must be obeyed at this particular location; for instance, when you travel south on 4 St N towards Gandy Blvd. and you see the Speed Limit 40 sign, you had better reduced your speed to 40 mph or the St. Petersburg Police Department will pull you over and give you a traffic ticket.

(Psst! Want to learn more about traffic signs? Richard Moeur has a great website on traffic signs, simply click on this link - it's well worth a read! If you are using Internet Explorer 7, you may want to click on that link by right clicking and selecting "open link as a new tab"; that way, you can easily refer back and forth between pages!)

3. Further north on Interstate 275 just about ½ to ¾ mile north of Interstate 375, place signage either ground mounted in the median or a partial overhead gantry mounted in the median warning motorists of the upcoming flyover ahead and the need to begin reducing speed to 50 mph if you intend to exit onto Interstate 375 from southbound Interstate 275. Supplement this with two yellow hazard beacons mounted on top of the sign if you need to place extra emphasis.

4. On the flyover ramp itself, mount a series of left chevrons on the Jersey barrier wall on the right side of the flyover ramp. This will let motorists know that the ramp curves to the left.

5. When the Interstate 375 flyover ramp – as well as the Interstate 275 viaduct which begins at Interstate 375 – was built in 1977, brackets and duct work were put in place to mount highway lighting. Unfortunately, these brackets were not used; instead, high mast lighting was used. Get rid of the high mast lighting and instead place highway lighting on the overpass brackets; if the Florida DOT wants to keep the high mast lighting do so as extra emphasis for safety reasons.



Now we need to explore one more probable safety item, and that is over at Interstate 375’s cousin, Interstate 175 (which is Exit 22 on Interstate 275, the south Downtown St. Petersburg distributor that serves Tropicana Field (Let's Go Rays!), the two hospitals (Bayfront Medical Center and All Children’s Hospital) and the Mahaffey Theater as well as the St. Petersburg Campus of the University of South Florida). The design of the flyover ramp for Interstate 175 eastbound from Interstate 275 southbound is similar to the design for Interstate 375 and it also requires left lane exit. However, this flyover is a low level flyover in which you go under the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 but the curve banking is much more treacherous than the flyover over at Interstate 375. As this flyover goes over one of Tropicana Field’s parking lots, if you don’t slow down you’ll end up off the ramp and into the parking lot for Tropicana Field – and believe me, you’ll end up being transported to Bayfront Medical Center’s ER rather than a Rays game.



The only warning posted for the Interstate 175 ramp from southbound Interstate 275 is nothing more than a 50 mph ramp advisory sign on a yellow background mounted on the left hand Jersey barrier on the Interstate 275 viaduct just before you exit. Is the Florida DOT waiting for a serious accident to happen on the Interstate 175 flyover as well?

Which leads me to the ultimate major improvement for both eastbound Interstates 375 and 175 from southbound Interstate 275: Construct a right hand exit starting midway between 5 Av N and 22 Av N and have this right hand exit serve 5 Av N, Interstate 375 and Interstate 175. That would mean everyone headed to Downtown St. Petersburg has to use this exit, and that includes anyone wanting to take in a Rays game at Tropicana Field. In other words, it would mean a centralized exit for all of Downtown St. Petersburg from Interstate 275 southbound.

But we don’t know if this major improvement may ever be built. You have major land acquisition issues in this area, not to mention that few homes in this general area are designated as historic landmarks. Then you have the financial issue; in this day and age of the current economy the money isn’t there to do what’s needed. However, there’s the trade-off, and that is motorist safety.

And by the way, if you haven’t read the original St. Petersburg Times article on 6 March 2009, here’s a link straight to the article. Moreover, I also urge you to please read my blog entry on a major attempt by my employer to silence me if you haven’t already. And don’t worry, the Interstate 275 Blog and Interstate275Florida.com will continue to be around for years to come, and I will assure you that my employer will not infringe – or even attempt to infringe - on my First Amendment rights.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Northbound Interstate 275 Lanes Coming to Tampa

A significant change is coming in a few weeks to northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa. However, what you will be driving on in a few weeks is just the tip of the iceberg as construction progresses on the section of Interstate 275 in Tampa from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) to the Ashley Street/Tampa Street/Scott Street complex (Exit 44) in downtown Tampa.

If you have recently driven northbound Interstate 275 approaching downtown Tampa, you have probably seen the new northbound lanes take shape including the erection of all new signage on ultra-modern sign brackets much like what you see over at the Tampa International Airport interchange. If you look at a recent Bay News 9 article the picture will show you that the new northbound lanes are of concrete rather than asphalt.

The new section of northbound Interstate 275 in Tampa is scheduled to open shortly after Easter, according to the Bay News 9 article. However, as I mentioned earlier this new section of Interstate 275 northbound in Tampa is just the tip of the iceberg. Why?

This project is part of a gigantic Interstate 275 reconstruction effort which will eventually run from the Tampa International Airport/FL 60/Kennedy Blvd. exit (Exit 39) to downtown Tampa at Exit 44. What will happen after the new northbound lanes are opened is that southbound Interstate 275 traffic coming out of downtown Tampa will be shifted over to the present northbound Interstate 275 lanes while at the same time the existing southbound Interstate 275 lanes will be demolished and a newly reconstructed southbound Interstate 275 coming out of downtown Tampa will take its place.

But wait! There’s more!

From Himes Avenue westward to the Howard Frankland Bridge Interstate 275 will also be getting the major reconstruction makeover as well. If you have been by the section of northbound Interstate 275 between Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) and Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) you have probably seen all the land clearing going on to the right of the northbound lanes. According to the fact sheet at the Florida DOT’s Tampa Bay Interstates site the segment consisting of reconstructing both northbound and southbound Interstate 275 from the Howard Frankland Bridge to Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) is scheduled for construction around Spring 2011.

Now what will all this mean for you when it’s all said and done?

First and foremost, you will see a widened Interstate 275 from six lanes to eight lanes. This will mean more capacity especially during the morning and afternoon commutes. The original Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa to the Howard Frankland Bridge was constructed in 1962 and 1963 and it used to be known as Interstate 4 at the time as a six- and four-lane highway with the transition taking place at Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A/B). The original four lane segment from Dale Mabry Highway to FL 60 (Exit 39) was widened to six lanes in the mid-1970’s and the original grass median was replaced with a continuous concrete Jersey barrier wall separating northbound and southbound traffic.

Second, there will be space in the newly created median which will accommodate a future light rail or commuter rail service utilizing the center median of Interstate 275. Even with all the new improvements that are coming to Interstate 275, we still need better mass transit if the Tampa Bay metro region wants to compete with the other metro regions of Florida and throughout the southeastern United States.

Third, you will no longer have the roller coaster effect which is the case with the present segment of Interstate 275 from Howard and Armenia Avenues (Exit 42) to downtown Tampa. This makes for a better line of sight and you can know in advance when your exit is coming up along with all new signage.

As I mentioned earlier, the new northbound lanes of Interstate 275 from Himes Avenue to downtown Tampa that will be opening in a few weeks is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure there will be more construction inconveniences on the way but in the end we’ll have an Interstate 275 we can be proud of.


Monday, March 9, 2009

FREE SPEECH SILENCING ATTEMPT!

By now you have seen the article in the St. Petersburg Times on Friday, 6 March 2009 regarding how dangerous the ramp from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375 is. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a well done article by St. Petersburg Times staff writer Drew Harwell.

If you haven't already seen my prior blog entry including the update, by all means click on this link. (Internet Explorer 7 users, you may want to right click and open as a new tab and that way you can read this entry and the prior entry side by side).

Now before I go on any further, in order to avoid any retribution by my employer, I am not disclosing who my employer is nor the personnel involved. However, if you are a member of any First Amendment advocacy group that would like to speak with me privately about my First Amendment rights, please contact me. Now on to the story.

While I was at work one of my higher superiors called me into the office to speak to me about my name appearing in the paper. The conversation was not of a congratulatory tone but of a tone that clearly violated my First Amendment rights. Specifically, I was told that:

1. I was not to speak with the St. Petersburg Times at all, period, on or off duty.
2. I must clear everything I speak through my superior.
3. My employer, for all aspects, practically owns me despite my explaining to the contrary.
4. I cannot practically write anything about my hometown anywhere, including my two websites, Interstate275Florida.com and EdwardRingwald.com!

Now please let me explain.

First of all, I was contacted by Drew Harwell at home. I never made any initial contact with Drew from my office. I was contacted because I had a prior blog entry on the March 2007 tanker incident which closed this very same ramp for a few weeks.

I never maintain my Interstate 275 blog or website from work. I only maintain them from home on my personal laptop computer. The same thing goes for EdwardRingwald.com or the Edward Ringwald Blog.

I am fully aware of my employer’s procedures when it comes to any contact with the news media. However, that applies whenever I am on duty and on my employer’s time. When I am off duty (as I am writing this blog entry as we speak) my employer cannot regulate my First Amendment activities when it comes to my blogs or websites. This is compared to a school principal disciplining a student over a student’s personal web page when it is done off of school time and off of school property.

What my employer did on 6 March 2009 was an attempt to silence the First Amendment rights of your Interstate275Florida.com and EdwardRingwald.com webmaster by having a meeting with me that would have led into disciplinary action. Luckily, at this point no disciplinary action was taken but I am not going to let this conversation deter me from speaking with any member of the news media, including the St. Petersburg Times, when I am off duty.

Now here’s another situation which closely borders what I experienced. Take the case of Laura Berg, who was a federal government employee.

Laura wrote an editorial in her weekly hometown newspaper in New Mexico about the Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq. This would be compared to me speaking with Drew Harwell while I was not on my employer’s time.

In an attempt to silence Laura’s First Amendment rights, her employer investigated her for “an act which potentially represents sedition”, according to an ACLU report on defending First Amendment rights. By comparison, my superior was investigating me for a possible violation of my employer’s policy when in fact no violation had indeed taken place.

Now you see there is a situation that closely borders what I experienced with my employer. Again, I am not letting my employer attempt to put a muzzle on my protected First Amendment rights when it comes to The Interstate 275 Blog or Interstate275Florida.com, as well as the Edward Ringwald Blog or EdwardRingwald.com.

As an American citizen, I do not relinquish my rights upon entering any workplace, and I am free to speak to anyone I want, including the news media. As long as I do it on my own time (which I have done as mentioned earlier), that is fine.

In other words, it is business as usual here at Interstate275Florida.com as well as The Interstate 275 Florida Blog. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Another tragic accident at Interstate 375, Exit 23

Exit 23, which is also known on Interstate 275 as the Interstate 375 exit into downtown St. Petersburg, was the scene of yet another fatal accident Monday evening, 2 March 2009. According to a St. Petersburg Times article, a car traveling southbound on Interstate 275 lost control as it negotiated the exit ramp from southbound Interstate 275 onto eastbound Interstate 375, falling into the City of St. Petersburg’s Water Resources maintenance yard below. Unfortunately, the driver of this car did not survive the crash.

This accident is reminiscent of what happened almost two years ago when the driver of a tanker truck lost control on this same exit ramp and the tanker burst into flames as it fell into the city maintenance yard on the ground. The ramp from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375 was closed for several weeks as crews had to demolish and rebuild sections of the flyover ramp as the intense heat from the tanker truck fire made parts of the flyover ramp unsafe.

You are probably asking yourself, “Why is Exit 23 becoming unsafe”? It’s a good question which deserves a good answer.

First, let’s start with an excerpt from a letter that I wrote to the St. Petersburg Times shortly after the 2007 tanker truck accident:

When this section of Interstate 275 was built in 1977 I believe the exit onto Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) should have been constructed as a right hand exit with access to 5th Avenue North. However, when the interstate was built with the left exit onto Interstate 375 the signage was well marked with advisories and warnings regarding the left exit and the reduced speed limit to 50 mph.

As a result of numerous sign replacement projects including the most recent one in conjunction with a concrete pavement rehabilitation project a while ago the left exit advisory signage - including the yellow "exit only" panel on the bottom of the sign - was replaced with nothing more than a diagrammatic sign without any mention of a left exit advisory. Any warning of a left exit onto Interstate 375 (or its counterpart, Interstate 175) from Interstate 275 today is nothing more than a little post mounted "Exit 50 mph" sign on the left side. I agree, once you are on that ramp onto Interstate 375 it's too late.


Next, let’s go over two important issues as to why Exit 23 is getting dangerous:

1. The Exit 23 ramps should have been built as a right exit which would have serviced both eastbound Interstate 375 as well as 5 Av N. A right hand exit is much safer as it promotes a safer highway by not having traffic jockeying for the correct lane as you approach the exit. Moreover, through traffic would continue to flow freely through St. Petersburg on Interstate 275 if the Exit 23 southbound off ramps were constructed as a right exit.

Presently Exit 23 from southbound Interstate 275 is a right exit – but only for Exit 23B, which is the exit for 5 Av N. Those wishing to reach downtown St. Petersburg by way of Interstate 375, also known as Exit 23A, must exit from the left lane.

2. The signage for Exit 23 from southbound as well as northbound Interstate 275 is inadequate as far as ramp warnings are concerned.

Back in 1977 when this section of Interstate 275 opened it featured signage for Interstate 375 complete with a bottom “Exit Only” panel and a large side mounted 50 mph advisory sign on the left side of the road. The same thing applied to northbound Interstate 275 at Exit 23 only that the exit is a right hand exit unlike its southbound counterpart.

Thirty years and several sign replacement projects later, this is what we see on Interstate 275 at Exit 23 in St. Petersburg:

No “Exit Only” warning on the bottom sign panel.

Small post mounted “Exit 50 mph” sign on the left hand ramp.

Diagrammatic advance signage that is adequate, but not adequate enough.

A sign with the word “Left” in black lettering on a yellow background placed atop the Exit 23 tab.

A large diamond right curve along with a very small 35 mph advisory sign on the right hand ramp from northbound Interstate 275.

Steep flyover ramps connecting Interstate 375 with Interstate 275, especially the one lane ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375.

You do not know that you are transitioning from Interstate 275 to Interstate 375 until it’s too late. In other words, you think you are headed to Bradenton/Sarasota or Tampa until you find out you are in downtown St. Petersburg.

A 3-foot high barrier is what separates you from a three story fall into the City of St. Petersburg Water Resources Department’s maintenance yard, with the only exception of a small chain link fence mounted atop the barrier on the left side of the ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375. Of course there are shoulders on each side, but the shoulders are not wide enough.

Now that you have the facts in hand, here are my recommendations to get Interstate 275 at Exit 23 (Interstate 375) fixed:

1. Erect large “tipping truck” warning signs along with flashing beacons on the ramps to Interstate 375 from both southbound and northbound Interstate 275. The signage is similar to warning signage on southbound Interstate 275 at Exit 39 in Tampa, where the ramp onto westbound FL 60 is an extremely sharp turn to the right.

2. Place easier to read and interpret warning signage on the advance signage for Interstate 375 from Interstate 275 on both directions. Signage stating that the exit is a left exit is good but not good enough.

3. In the long term, and when the economy gets back on track, consider relocating the exit for Interstate 375 from a left hand exit to a right hand exit. Another possibility would be to have all traffic for Interstate 375, Interstate 175 and 5 Av N exit Interstate 275 north of 5 Av N utilizing a dedicated right hand exit ramp which would collect traffic from Interstate 275 headed to downtown St. Petersburg and distribute it among Interstate 175, Interstate 375 and 5 Av N. The ramp would look similar to a collector-distributor off ramp which services Jefferson Street, Ashley Drive/Tampa Street and Doyle Carlton Drive from southbound Interstate 275 and westbound Interstate 4 in downtown Tampa.

I recently have drawn a diagram of what Interstate 275 at Interstate 375 looks like today compared to how it should have been built in 1977.

How many more accidents are we going to see at Exit 23 on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg before the Florida DOT gets to doing something about it? How many more vehicles are going to end up in the City of St. Petersburg’s maintenance yard as a result of inadequate warning of the transition from Interstate 275 to Interstate 375 in downtown St. Petersburg?

You can read more about Interstate 375 in downtown St. Petersburg simply by clicking on this link to go over to the Interstate 375 page at Interstate275Florida.com. There you can see pictures of Interstate 375, including pictures of the interchange the morning after the 2007 tanker accident along with commentary.

Now I want your input on how we can fix the Exit 23 mess. Lastly, my condolences to the family of the driver who lost his life this past Monday (3/2/09) on Interstate 275 at Interstate 375.

An Update!

Recently the St. Petersburg Times did an article on how the ramp from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375 and you can read it by clicking here. Hey, your Interstate275Florida.com webmaster is mentioned! Drew Harwell did a great job on this article.

One more item I forgot to mention in this blog entry is the lighting. When Interstate 275 and Interstate 375 was built in 1977, all the overpass bridges had brackets on the side for installation of highway lighting consistent with the rest of Interstate 275 through St. Petersburg. However, the Florida DOT opted for the high mast lighting throughout the viaduct section of Interstate 275 through Downtown St. Petersburg.

I think the highway lighting found on the sides of Interstate 275 should have been installed at the time Interstate 275 at Interstate 375 was built. If the highway lighting was better, it would have let motorists know of the ramp that is ahead, especially at night.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Elevate Gandy Yes, But Not Two Lanes

In Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times there was an editorial on building an elevated section of Gandy Blvd. from the southern terminus of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway to the east end of the Gandy Bridge. The plan calls for two elevated lanes, one eastbound and one westbound.

In my own opinion, we need a better route between the east end of the Gandy Bridge and the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by building an elevated section in the space where there is going to be a median for Gandy Blvd (the widening project that is taking place). However, it needs to be a minimum of four lanes, not the two lanes as planned. Why?

1. The majority of Gandy Blvd. traffic from the east end of the Gandy Bridge to the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is not local traffic. Instead, it is passing through traffic coming to or from St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Times is right on that. Every time when I take an occasional trip through this section of Gandy Blvd. that road is heavily used.

2. An elevated four-lane Gandy connector would provide an alternative to Interstate 275 and the Howard Frankland Bridge and at the same time would give commuters living in St. Petersburg and working in Tampa and vice versa an alternative route. Besides, those who live in St. Petersburg and want to get to Interstate 4 and the Orlando area attractions can also use this route (with a connection to Interstate 4 via Interstate 75 and the Selmon Crosstown Expressway) without having to fight traffic on Interstate 275 through Downtown Tampa, especially during the rush hour on weekdays.

3. It would provide an essential hurricane evacuation route for those St. Petersburg residents (as well as the beaches of southern Pinellas County) that needs to evacuate as a hurricane approaches. Remember when Hurricane Charley tried to pay the St. Petersburg area a visit in August 2004 and all the routes leading out of Pinellas County were next to gridlock? With an elevated four-lane Gandy connector, in the event of a hurricane evacuation all four lanes would be converted to eastbound use, which would extend to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

4. A two-lane Gandy connector would create nothing but gridlock during the morning and evening rush hours, as you would have only one lane going eastbound and one lane going westbound. A four lane Gandy connector with a center concrete divider similar to the concrete dividers on Interstate 275 would do the trick.

While we’re on the subject of Gandy Blvd. and the Gandy Bridge, here are more suggested improvements to bring another limited access highway between St. Petersburg and Tampa. A few of these suggestions have been on the shelves for many years; now is the time to consider dusting off the plans.

Gandy Bridge:

1. Tear down the 1956 westbound span, which used to be the Friendship Trail until the bridge had to be closed in its entirety due to the span being structurally deficient. Build a new westbound span (identical to the westbound span that was constructed in 1999) in the same location.

2. The present 1999 westbound span would become the eastbound span.

3. The older 1975 eastbound span could be put to use as the replacement Friendship Trail Bridge. This would appease motorists as well as pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Besides, the 1975 span is in better shape than the 1956 span.

Gandy Blvd. from the west end of the Gandy Bridge to Interstate 275’s Exit 28:

1. Convert the existing highway into a limited access highway much like what we are seeing now on US 19 in Pinellas County. Interchanges would be built at Brighton Bay Blvd NE (at the entrance to Derby Lane), 4 St N and Roosevelt Blvd., Martin Luther King St N and 16 St N. Access to businesses along Gandy Blvd. such as WTSP-TV (10 Connects) would be maintained by way of frontage roads.

2. Construct a recreation area on the south side of Gandy Blvd. as well as a recreational multi-purpose trail to connect the replacement Friendship Trail Bridge. This would retain the recreational character of the area south of Gandy Blvd. on the St. Petersburg approach to the Gandy Bridge, popularly called Gandy Beach.

3. Just west of Interstate 275, continue the limited access highway to US 19 where there is an interchange that was built in 1977. This is the interchange in Pinellas Park where Gandy Blvd. becomes Park Blvd. Construct an interchange at Grand Blvd. where access is provided into the Gateway Industrial Park as well as a frontage road.

4. As for the Interstate 275 interchange at Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), I have a page on a suggested Exit 28 makeover over at Interstate275Florida.com which you can access by clicking on this link. I’ll let that page speak for itself.

In my opinion, the elevated Gandy connector from the east end of the Gandy Bridge to the south end of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a great idea which would benefit St. Petersburg residents. However, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority should consider a four lane elevated flyover – which would be compatible with the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and Gandy Blvd., both which are already four lanes – as a viable solution rather than a two lane solution.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

New Ramp From TIA to Southbound Interstate 275 Set To Open

For those of you coming out of Tampa International Airport and headed to St. Petersburg, rejoice!

A new flyover ramp is scheduled to open Friday morning, 1/16/09. This ramp will take you straight from Tampa International Airport to southbound Interstate 275 without having to go through all the merges and lane changes of the past. I have rode by there recently and from looking at how the new ramp is constructed, it will be like a "red carpet" for those headed to St. Petersburg from Tampa International Airport.

When the new ramp opens, watch for signage in the area that will direct you onto the new ramp if you are headed to St. Petersburg. Beware: Once you get on that new ramp, there is no exit from Interstate 275 until you reach Exit 32 (which is the 4 St N exit) in St. Petersburg; this means a trip across the Howard Frankland Bridge. On the other hand, if you are headed to Tampa, continue to follow the other flyover ramp as you have done in the past.

According to the Florida DOT, the ramp is scheduled to open between 1 AM and 5 AM on Friday morning, 1/16/09. So get ready for a new airport to St. Petersburg via Interstate 275 experience!