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.

Leave a Reply