Safety Tips for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse will be upon us this Monday, 21 August 2017!  What happens is that the Moon blocks out the Sun’s view for a brief period of time, which may lead to nighttime-like conditions when the eclipse passes us by in the Tampa Bay region.
According to Bay News 9, the Tampa Bay region should see the maximum of the partial total eclipse sometime around 1451 (2:51 PM) on Monday, 21 August 2017.   Some school districts across the Tampa Bay region are allowing students to be absent as an excused day from school; you will want to check with your local school district for the specifics.
Here are some eclipse safety tips as eclipse day draws nearer (some of the eclipse safety tips are from NASA’s 2017 Eclipse Safety page):
  • Most importantly:  Never, never look at the eclipse with the naked eye or with your regular eyeglasses on including sunglasses!  It will be so bright that eyesight damage can result!
  • The only way to view the eclipse safely without endangering your eyesight is the use of eclipse glasses or viewers that comply with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard.  If you purchase a pair of those safety glasses, make sure that it reads that it complies with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard. 
  • If you happen to be driving on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region when the eclipse hits, never, never stop on either shoulder on the Interstate 275 mainline or any exit ramp!  It is illegal pursuant to Section 316.1945 of the Florida Statutes and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can issue you a citation for stopping on the Interstate 275 shoulders or mainline.  Besides, it’s also very dangerous.  Instead, stop in a safer place if you want to view the eclipse.
  • The same thing goes for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge – again, do not stop anywhere on the bridge including the 191-foot high main span.  Be aware that surveillance cameras monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol monitor all activity on the Sunshine Skyway main span and if you are seen stopping on the shoulder of the Sunshine Skyway, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper will be dispatched to see what is going on.  If you want to view the eclipse from the Sunshine Skyway area, use the rest areas or the fishing piers instead – it’s much safer. 
  • When it gets momentarily dark during the maximum totality of the partial total eclipse, turn on your headlights even if you have automatic daytime running lamps.  This will turn on your taillights and you can be seen better.
  • Again, do not look at the eclipse with the naked eye or with your glasses (including sunglasses) on.  It will be so bright that eyesight damage – in fact, permanent eyesight damage – can result. 
If you’re wondering where on Interstate 275’s parent, Interstate 75, you can see the total solar eclipse in its entirety where it will get dark for about two minutes, it will take place in Tennessee between Cleveland just north of Chattanooga and Farragut just west of Knoxville, with the center of the totality between Athens and Sweetwater on US 11, which parallels Interstate 75 in central and southern Tennessee.  In fact, our Interstate 275 counterpart in Knoxville (actually a spur from Interstate 40 to Interstates 75 and 640) lies just outside the path of eclipse totality.

As NASA says, a solar eclipse is one of nature’s grandest spectacles.  Let’s be safe out there when the eclipse arrives on Monday, 21 August 2017 and you will have a memorable experience!

What to do if the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is closed

Happy New Year!  (Even though we are a few weeks into 2016!)

Lately we have been having a good share of bad weather, sometimes it would get so bad that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge has to be closed due to high winds.  Let’s say you are in St. Petersburg and you are headed south over the Sunshine Skyway to an event taking place at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish.  Perhaps Hole in the Head Gang Train Robbery?  Hobo Campfire Cookout?  Murder Mystery Express?  Day Out With Thomas?  Or a regular train ride?

OK.  Florida Railroad Museum tickets ordered and ready at will call?  Check!
Vehicle ready to go?  Check!

Now you got that covered, you find your way onto Interstate 275 south.  All that stands between you and the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish is the reliable Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the tremendous time saver between St. Petersburg and Bradenton since 1954.

You are about to pass the last exit before the Sunshine Skyway, which is Pinellas Point Drive South, Exit 16.  Uh-Oh!  Florida Highway Patrol troopers or St. Petersburg Police officers directing you to exit at Pinellas Point Drive South instead of continuing south onto the Sunshine Skyway.  The trooper or officer tells you that the Sunshine Skyway is closed due to high winds.

Bummer.  High winds.  What do you do if the Sunshine Skyway is closed?

If you are in St. Petersburg, you unfortunately have a 40-mile detour through Tampa via Interstate 75.  It will take a lot more time to get from St. Petersburg to Parrish and the Florida Railroad Museum, but you’ll get there.

In order to bypass the temporary Sunshine Skyway closure due to high winds, you have two choices from St. Petersburg.  Both routes involve transit through Tampa.

1.  Follow Interstate 275 north over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Interstate 4 (Exit 45B).  Next, follow Interstate 4 east for a short distance to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by way of the connector highway which will enable you to transition seamlessly from eastbound Interstate 4 to eastbound Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  Once on the Crosstown follow it east to Interstate 75 south, then follow Interstate 75 south.

2.  Follow Interstate 275 north but exit the highway at FL 694/Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), then east across the Gandy Bridge into Tampa.  Enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and follow it for its entire length to Interstate 75 south.  Remember to keep your SunPass funded, as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a cashless toll facility.  Unlike the Sunshine Skyway, there are no toll booths on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Now if you are headed in the opposite direction from Bradenton to St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway is closed, it’s very simple.  Simply reverse the directions as given above, just allow for extra time going through Tampa.

As I mentioned in a post from 2012, this is a great time to let you know what criteria is used in deciding to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather. On the main span of the Sunshine Skyway are wind speed detectors which send a wind speed report to the Florida Highway Patrol’s Tampa Bay Regional Communications Center. It is the personnel in the communications center that make a recommendation to FHP troopers whether to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather. Moreover, the FHP troopers out there patrolling the Sunshine Skyway also keep a close eye on weather conditions including how windy it is out there on the main span.

When wind speeds hover close to 40 mph (60 km/h) FHP troopers keep a close eye on conditions on the Sunshine Skyway, including activating the yellow flashing lights that warn motorists entering the bridge of high winds. Once the winds get sustained above 40 mph, FHP troopers will order the Sunshine Skyway closed.

Once the order to close the Sunshine Skyway is given, FHP troopers will direct motorists off of Interstate 275, southbound in St. Petersburg at Pinellas Point Drive South (Exit 16) and northbound in Palmetto/Ellenton at both US 41 (Exit 2) and on US 19 north at the last turn before toll at Exit 5 (that is the northbound entrance to Interstate 275 from US 19). Additionally, the closure order is passed on to the Florida DOT so that the electronic variable message signs found on Interstate 275 as well as Interstates 75 and 4 are updated with closure information advising motorists to seek alternative routes.

After all, closures of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather are not taken very lightly. If in the event the Florida Highway Patrol has to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather, it is for one good reason: Your safety.   After all, no one – including me – wants to be out there on the Sunshine Skyway’s 191-foot high main span during dangerous weather.

And if you have to be somewhere across the Sunshine Skyway such as an event at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, plan ahead.

Why does our commute in the Tampa Bay region get longer and longer?

I recently came across an article in the St. Petersburg Times, written by staff writer Michael Van Sickler, about why we Tampa Bay region residents are mired in our cars while other metropolitan areas (such as Miami and Orlando) have rail based commuting alternatives.  I wrote a reply to this article via the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page on Facebook and I would like to share it with you.

After all, we need to fix the Tampa Bay region’s traffic and transit woes in order to be competitive with Miami and Orlando.  The obvious solution is rail based mass transit, not the Florida DOT’s proposed Tampa Bay Express (TBX) for Interstate 275, now rebranded as Tampa Bay Next.

Sad but true.

Why do the anti-rail activists such as Sharon Calvert advocate more roads and more congestion instead of providing a more logical solution for getting around the Tampa Bay region? Why build a 20 lane version of Interstate 275 in order to accommodate TBX?

Let’s put it this way:

1. It is impossible for one to find a home close to work. Case in point: Downtown St. Petersburg has a residential downtown; unfortunately, for most people living in Downtown St. Petersburg – especially to be close to a Downtown St. Petersburg employer in particular – is financially out of reach.

2. With transit in the Tampa Bay region is spotty as it is now, the commuter is forced to rely on his or her own motor vehicle in order to commute to and from work. With living close to work out of the question, it means at least a 30 minute commute to work, if not longer.

3. The longer your commute to work, the more you pay in auto insurance. Case in point: Let’s say you live in New Tampa and you commute to work in Downtown St. Petersburg. Yes, Downtown St. Petersburg. From New Tampa you have to make your way south on congested Interstate 75 over to doubly congested westbound Interstate 4 in order to get to southbound Interstate 275. And yes, you got to get through Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge. Once you are over the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County, you still got a ways to go before you reach the office in Downtown St. Petersburg. That said, how many miles from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg is your commute?

When you call around or go online for an auto insurance quote, one of the questions you are asked is this: How many miles is your commute, one way, to work daily? Give the agent the one way distance from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg and you will more likely get a high rate quote.

4. Don’t forget, there is wear and tear on your vehicle for every day you commute to and from work. Factor in gasoline and maintenance costs. We are enjoying low gas prices right now, but wait until gas prices get back into the upper $3 to the lower $4 a gallon range.

5. More and more employers in the Tampa Bay region end up losing valuable employee talent due to long commutes to and from work plus the lack of reliable mass transit. This cuts into an employer’s bottom line as once an employee quits, the employer has to hire and train a replacement employee which takes a considerable amount of time.

6. There are people out there for one reason or another do not want to own a vehicle due to the high costs of insurance and maintenance, not to mention the car loan payments you make every month if you finance your car purchase. Unfortunately, in the Tampa Bay region this is not an option due to the lack of a robust rail-based mass transit system.

7. More and more people are having to move from the Tampa Bay region to metropolitan areas which already have rail-based mass transit systems in place such as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando as examples. With rail based mass transit it’s as simple as getting on at the nearest commuter rail station and riding the train in to work downtown – no overly congested highways to worry about.

The need to fix the Tampa Bay region’s congestion woes is clearly obvious: The Tampa Bay region needs commuter and light rail based mass transit. We do not need a 20 lane Interstate 275 and we definitely do not need those so-called “Lexus Lanes” such as TBX. And certainly the Tampa Bay region does not need to become another Detroit!

And we the residents of the Tampa Bay region deserve better choices when it comes to getting around.  Better choices for transit mean a better economy for the Tampa Bay region.

Reflections on the Sunshine Skyway Tragedy 35 Years Ago

9 May.

In 1921 Sophie Scholl, the principal force behind the White Rose movement in Germany during World War II, was born.

In 1955 West Germany joins NATO.

In 1974, The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee begins formal impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in the Watergate Scandal.

In 1980:

Slovenia was not an independent nation yet – it was still a constituent republic of Yugoslavia, which was mourning the death of its longtime leader Josip Broz Tito earlier on 4 May 1980.

The Cuban boatlift was still going on, with refugees pouring in to the United States on boats coming out of Mariel Harbor.

Meanwhile, in the mouth of Tampa Bay, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was a classic twin cantilever span ready for yet another day.  Another day of motorists driving across the bridge (and having to dread the steel grid deck) to get where they want to go.  Another day of ships coming into and out of the Port of Tampa.  Besides, being a Friday it’s the end of another work and school week.

The time:  5:43 AM.  The date:  Friday, 9 May 1980.  The place:  The shipping channel between Egmont Key and Ft. DeSoto Park.

When ships come into or out of the Port of Tampa, they have to be guided in or out by a harbor pilot so that these ships can be safely navigated through Tampa Bay and into the Port of Tampa.  Back then, there was a major obstacle:  The old Sunshine Skyway Bridge with its 864-foot center span, which was long enough for ships of the 1950’s.  Aboard a pilot boat out of Egmont Key, harbor pilot John Lerro reported to duty aboard a vessel that came inbound from Houston a few days earlier; that vessel is the Summit Venture, a 606-foot freighter coming in to Tampa to take on a load of phosphate for somewhere in a distant part of the world.

Everything seems OK, until a severe thunderstorm arrives sometime after 7 AM.  Visibility was reduced to zero and that John Lerro concerned.  Would he miss the critical turn at Buoys 1A and 2A to avoid the Sunshine Skyway’s tall channel piers?  After all, when you are on Interstate 275 and visibility drops to near zero, you take any and all measures to prevent a collision such as exiting the highway and waiting somewhere until the rain lets up.

Then, at 7:38 AM on Friday, 9 May 1980, Interstate 275 Florida history would change forever, as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned.

The rains kept raging on preventing any visibility whatsoever.  Then – out of nowhere – the Summit Venture was on a collision course with the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and its Support Pier 2-S, the anchor pier just south of the main channel Pier 1-S that anchors the south cantilever and provides the transition from through truss to deck truss.  John Lerro, the harbor pilot, tries everything to stop the ship from colliding with the bridge including reversing the engines and dropping the anchor.

Then impact.

Compare the impact to a soda can as it related to a compact car.  The compact car has more mass than the soda can.  Therefore, upon impact the soda can is crushed by the mass of the compact car.  The same thing with the Summit Venture upon impact with Pier 2-S:  After all, Pier 2-S was not designed for impact from a large vessel and, upon impact, Pier 2-S was sheared off its supports like a heavy sword.

Upon loss of support by Pier 2-S, the impact started a chain of events which would result in the deck truss from Pier 3-S northward plus the through truss from Pier 2-S to the point north of Pier 1-S (the main channel pier to the south of the shipping channel) collapsing into the churning waters of Tampa Bay below, including the south anchor arm and cantilever arm.  This left behind the suspended center span which was being held up by the north cantilever arm and anchor arm but the northern arm could not take the load of the suspended center span on its own.  The suspended center span fell into Tampa Bay as well.

In the end, thirty five people lost their lives that fateful morning including a few on a Greyhound bus headed for Miami.  There were only two survivors:  Richard Hornbuckle, who managed to stop his Buick Skylark a mere 14 inches from the abyss on the northern arm and Wesley McIntire, who drove off the broken end of the southbound span and survived by swimming to the top and being rescued by the Summit Venture crew.

Meanwhile:

I was going to a private high school on the day the Sunshine Skyway fell, and I was getting ready for school that morning.  Back in 1980, we did not have Bay News 9 yet (in fact, my house did not have cable service yet – just an outdoor antenna receiving Channels 8, 10 or 13).  Instead, I had a little AM radio tuned to WSUN-AM 620 listening to music while I was getting ready for school.  Suddenly, Ronald J. Evin, the news director for WSUN at the time, came on with a special bulletin:  A ship was ready to hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Well, I thought, it was probably another boat that would bump into the fender system and the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span would still be there.  Or as I thought.

Once at school the TV was on and tuned to WTVT Channel 13, which was a CBS affiliate at the time.  (Remember the programming that used to be there from a long time ago when WTVT was a CBS affiliate?  WTVT became a FOX affiliate in the Great Tampa Bay Television Affiliate Switch of 1994 and WTVT has been a FOX Owned and Operated station since.)  Once I saw the pictures for the first time I was totally shocked:  The southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway was gone.  I could not believe it!

Two days later, when the northbound span was converted to handle two way traffic my mother, grandmother and I took a Sunday ride to check out the damage:  A southbound span that was damaged beyond imagination, and a tall channel pier that stood out from the rest of the mail channel piers on the Sunshine Skyway – Pier 1-S – which would stand out as an icon of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge for the next several years.  Everyone else was checking it out too.

Besides, my mother was doing the driving – I haven’t received my driver’s license yet.  The car I had was a 1974 Ford Mustang II and all it had was just an AM radio – no AM/FM/CD like you see in today’s cars and SUV’s.  In fact, no entertainment center where you can listen to AM, FM, XM Satellite Radio or your own MP3 music on a flash drive.  The radio was fixed onto WSUN AM 620 just like my little radio at home.

35 years later, things have changed over the years since the Sunshine Skyway tragedy.

First of all, I graduated from high school in 1983 and I had to write a senior year thesis.  The subject?  The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, from building to collapse.

In 1981, there were decisions that had to be made as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned.  Rebuild the cantilever bridge or replace it with a new bridge?  Florida Governor Bob Graham made the decision that would change the signature of the Tampa Bay region forever:  A new, cable-stayed four lane Sunshine Skyway Bridge that met interstate highway standards.  After all, Interstate 275 was built all the way to Queensboro Av S in south St. Petersburg with another section getting underway which would extend the highway to 39 Av S with interchanges at 22 Av S (Exit 19) and 26 Av S (Exit 18) and the ultimate goal was to connect Interstate 275 with the newly extended Interstate 75 to Naples and Miami.  Besides, the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge did not meet interstate standards.

Construction on the new Sunshine Skyway began in 1982.  On 30 April 1987, five years after construction started, the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to traffic.

Right after the new Sunshine Skyway opened both the old and new Sunshine Skyway bridges would stand next to each other.  In 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway – both northbound and southbound spans including all the main channel piers including Pier 1-S, the channel pier that stood out after the Sunshine Skyway tragedy – was demolished.  What was left of the northbound and southbound spans were converted into fishing piers as they are today.

When I wrote a similar blog entry five years ago in 2010 I paid a visit on Sunday, 9 May 2010 to the fishing pier on the northern end of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  The center section including its signature main channel piers is long gone, but as I was standing at the end of the fishing pier I began to realize the bridge that used to be from its beginnings in 1954 as a single span and the second span in 1971 to the collapse in 1980 and what happened afterward.  I took a look around the fishing pier and bait shop and all I found was nothing more than a little poster put up by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – the department responsible for Florida’s state parks and recreation areas including the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers – that told of the tragedy that took place on 9 May 1980.

Here’s a comment I left over at the St. Petersburg Times website discussing where people were when the Sunshine Skyway collapsed:

I have heard that there is some kind of memorial being put up at the fishing pier to remember the people whose lives were cut short by what happened. Perhaps a memorial – maybe a small obelisk structure consisting of a replica of the two tall channel piers (on the southbound span, the north channel pier – Pier 1N – had the identical look to their 1954 counterparts while the south channel pier – Pier 1S – had a different architectural look after repairs were made in 1969) – should be constructed as a memorial to the old Sunshine Skyway as well as the 35 people that perished that frightful morning. Besides, we remember people that we lost with monuments and memorials, especially World War II.

There’s already a memorial to the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, which sunk just west of the old Sunshine Skyway in January 1980 after colliding with an oil tanker.  I think the State of Florida ought to consider a memorial at the fishing pier of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge, built with private donations, as a reminder of the tragedy that happened that fateful morning of Friday, 9 May 1980 and afterward as well as triumph with the construction of the new bridge.

Well, fast forward five years to 2015.  Saturday, 9 May 2015 to be exact.  A memorial to the Sunshine Skyway tragedy would become reality thanks to a private individual.

Bill DeYoung wrote an excellent book of the true story of the Tampa Bay region’s signature bridge and of the events that led up to the tragedy at the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span on 9 May 1980.  Bill’s book expertly documents the Sunshine Skyway from when it was built in 1954 and the twin southbound span in 1971 until tragedy struck that fateful Friday morning in May 1980.

At the same time the book was being promoted, there was strong interest for a memorial dedicated to the 35 people that lost their lives on 9 May 1980.  A donation drive ensued, and with the blessing of the State of Florida to allow a monument to be constructed at the North Skyway Rest Area a memorial dedicated to the memory of the 35 people that lost their lives on the Sunshine Skyway that fateful morning became reality.

That memorial was dedicated at a public ceremony on Saturday, 9 May 2015.  I paid a visit to the newly erected memorial later in the afternoon and I would say that it is a very beautiful and respectful memorial.

Now there are two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area:  One is the memorial to the USCGC Blackthorn which sank in Tampa Bay when it collided with the tanker Capricorn on 28 January 1980, and the other memorial of course is the memorial to the thirty five persons that lost their lives when the Sunshine Skyway was hit by the Summit Venture on Friday, 9 May 1980 at 7:38 AM.  Both memorials are part of the North Skyway Rest Area and are open 24 hours a day; simply take the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area from Interstate 275 and follow the signs for the rest area.  Once in the rest area both memorials are on the left; the Skyway memorial is the first memorial just before you approach the rest area building and the Blackthorn memorial is the second memorial across the drive from the rest area building.  There is ample parking provided in the rest area and nighttime security is provided for peace of mind.

I highly recommend Bill DeYoung’s book, and you can purchase it from Amazon in either traditional hard copy format or in electronic Amazon Kindle format which you can read on practically any device such as your desktop or laptop computer, iPhone, iPad, Android – you name it.  This book is the Sunshine Skyway tragedy well researched and done.

With two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area, perhaps the Florida DOT should update the signage on the Interstate 275 mainline just before the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area.  Presently the signage is just for the Blackthorn memorial.

In respect to the thirty five people who perished that fateful morning on Friday, 9 May 1980, here is a closeup picture of the newly dedicated monument with the names of the thirty five people who perished that day – The Day The Skyway Fell (click on the photo to enlarge):

Exit Numbering Changes on Interstate 275 in Tampa

By now you are getting used to the new southbound lanes on Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to Exit 39 (FL 60 to Tampa International Airport as well as Clearwater).  The good news is that all the exits are now from the right lane as opposed to the temporary left lane exits.
With the new southbound lanes of Interstate 275 open come a couple of exit numbering changes for Dale Mabry Highway (US 92) and Himes Avenue, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT’s Tampa Bay Region interstate construction page.  Here’s what the exits used to be before the reconstruction project began:
Northbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway southbound
Exit 41B – Dale Mabry Highway northbound
Southbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41C – Himes Avenue
Exit 41B – Dale Mabry Highway northbound
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway southbound
Now with the circular ramps from Interstate 275 to Dale Mabry Highway gone, this changes the makeup of the Dale Mabry/Himes interchange complex on Interstate 275.  That said, here’s the exits in the new format:
Northbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway
Southbound Interstate 275:
Exit 41B – Himes Avenue
Exit 41A – Dale Mabry Highway
So, in order to exit Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway, you will use the ramp at Exit 41A to proceed in either direction on Dale Mabry Highway.  Himes Avenue – which used to be Exit 41C but is now Exit 41B – is a northbound entrance and southbound exit ramp.
Dale Mabry Highway is also known as US 92, the cross Florida highway from St. Petersburg to Daytona Beach that parallels and predates Interstate 4.  While Dale Mabry Highway is a north-south road, US 92 is an east-west highway explained thus:
Dale Mabry Highway northbound – US 92 eastbound
Dale Mabry Highway southbound – US 92 westbound
 
We’ll be also updating the Interstate275Florida.com Tampa pages with new pictures as soon as new signage is installed and lane configurations are in their permanent configurations.  Stay tuned!
 
 

More big changes coming to southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa!

Motorists, get ready for yet another big change on Interstate 275 southbound in Tampa!
If you have had the chance or if your travels take you on southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa south of downtown Tampa, you have seen the new southbound lanes take shape along with plenty of brand new signage.  Now a new construction milestone is on the horizon when southbound Interstate 275 traffic will get to use the new southbound lanes.
Another benefit of the new Interstate 275 southbound lanes is that all the exits – Howard/Armenia Avenues (Exit 42), Himes Avenue (Exit 41B), Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41A), Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) and Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) – will be right lane exits instead of the temporary left lane exits we’ve been used to while the construction project is taking place.  No more having to go through temporary ramps to get to where you need to go.
Unfortunately, the switch over is going to mean some inconvenience and the switch over will be taking place during night time hours.  This will mean detours and traffic delays while the switch over takes place.
According to Tampa Bay Interstates, the switch over will take place on Friday evening, 27 March 2015 beginning at 11:30 PM and wrapped up by Saturday morning, 28 March 2015 at 5:30 AM.  This is subject to change due to weather conditions; if weather conditions make it unsafe to do the switch over it will be done the next night or a night when conditions are safe.
Now here’s the detour when the switch over is taking place:
Expect to be detoured off of Interstate 275 southbound (this includes westbound Interstate 4 transitioning to southbound Interstate 275) at Exit 45A, which is Downtown East/West which will put you on either Jefferson Street or Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa.  Go south on either street to Kennedy Blvd., also known as FL 60.
Follow Kennedy Blvd. west across the Hillsborough River.  Kennedy Blvd. provides access to the southbound Interstate 275 exits that will be closed during the switch over:  Armenia/Howard Avenues, Himes Avenue, Dale Mabry Highway (US 92), Lois Avenue and Westshore Blvd.
Now if you are headed to Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg, continue to head west on Kennedy Blvd.  To reach St. Petersburg you will take a left at the intersection where Kennedy Blvd. continues west to southbound Interstate 275.  To reach Tampa International Airport, continue straight (Kennedy Blvd. becomes Memorial Highway) and follow the signs.  Be sure to be in your right lane as you approach the Tampa International Airport entrance and watch for traffic coming from northbound Interstate 275 as you make the lane changes.
ALTERNATIVE DETOUR ROUTE FOR ST. PETERSBURG IF COMING FROM WESTBOUND INTERSTATE 4:  Take the Selmon Crosstown connector to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway (FL Toll 618), and follow the Selmon Crosstown westbound to its end at Gandy Blvd. (US 92).  West on Gandy Blvd. across the Gandy Bridge to St. Petersburg; continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 south.  Be aware of construction on Gandy Blvd. at 4 St N and Martin Luther King St N as there are temporary lane shifts in the area.
Be advised that the Selmon Crosstown is a toll road and tolls are collected via SunPass or toll-by-plate (no cash is accepted).  But believe me, it’s worth the toll to get around the expected congestion when the detours on Interstate 275 are in effect.
When the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes open, be aware that the new right lane exits at Exits 41B, 41A and 40B are in close succession.  Plan accordingly and be in the right lane for your intended exit.
Hopefully all the construction on Interstate 275 south of downtown Tampa should be wrapped up in the latter part of 2016.  But when it’s all said and done, you will have four lanes of travel in either direction and there will be space in the center median for what I hope someday will be the answer to the Tampa Bay region’s transit needs:  Rail based mass transit in the form of commuter rail or light rail.  After all, Miami and Orlando already have rail based mass transit; the time has now come for Tampa to have rail based mass transit which will provide a much needed turbo-boost to the economy of the Tampa Bay region.  As I have mentioned previously, you can widen Interstate 275 to 20 lanes but you will still have traffic gridlock because of not so many transit choices.
 

Westshore Blvd exit (Exit 40A) closure alert

Since this is the first post of 2015, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!  Hopefully you got to ring in the New Year happily and safely.
I noticed a variable message alert on the Interstate 275 variable message boards just lately and I noticed that the exit to Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) from southbound Interstate 275 is going to close on 8 January 2015 sometime between 12 Midnight and 5:30 AM and remain closed until May 2015, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT’s website for all interstate and highway construction in the Tampa Bay region.  This is necessary so that the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes can be constructed in this area and the ramp to Westshore Blvd. from southbound Interstate 275 can be constructed in its permanent configuration.  You have undoubtedly seen the work on the overpass on southbound Interstate 275 at Westshore Blvd. as it progresses, not to mention the temporary lane shifts necessitating a 45 mph speed limit as you pass through the area.
As the Westshore Blvd. exit is a highly used exit not only for commuters who work in any of the office complexes in Tampa’s Westshore district but for anyone staying at any of the hotels in the vicinity of Westshore Blvd. and Interstate 275, not to mention Westshore Plaza including the AMC Theatres Westshore 14 to catch the latest and greatest movies there, if you use this exit on a frequent basis you need to read this as to how it will affect how you will get to destinations in Tampa’s Westshore district.  I know, it’s going to be an inconvenience for a little bit but you will see a much improved Interstate 275 in the end.

I have seen a lot of progress on the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa of lately.  I think the goal is to get these southbound lanes opened as soon as possible so that the contractor can get started on getting the northbound lanes constructed, especially in the area around the Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A/B, US 92) interchange.  (In fact, just recently I have seen backups into the northbound Interstate 275 mainline of motorists exiting northbound Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway in order to get to Raymond James Stadium for events taking place there).

The detour for Westshore Blvd., according to Tampa Bay Interstates, is for motorists to take the right hand exit for both Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue, which is reached from a single exit location just before the left hand exit for Himes Avenue (Exit 41C).  Follow the signage in order to reach Lois Avenue; actually you will exit onto Cypress Street rather than Lois Avenue.  Once on Cypress Street proceed west on Cypress Street past Lois Avenue for about a half a mile to Westshore Blvd.
When the Westshore Blvd. exit from southbound Interstate 275 closes temporarily, please keep in mind the following exits from southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to FL 60/Tampa International Airport that are open (this is subject to change as construction on Interstate 275 progresses):
Exit 42, Armenia/Howard Avenues (temporary left exit – use left lane)
Exits 41A-B and Exit 40B, Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue (via Cypress Street)
Exit 41C, Himes Avenue (temporary left exit – use left lane) 
Exit 39, FL 60 to Tampa International Airport, Clearwater and FL Toll 589/Veterans Expressway
If you miss Exits 41A-B (Dale Mabry/Lois via Cypress) and you do not want to have to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge to have to make a U-turn at Exit 32, 4 St N in St. Petersburg, use Exit 39 and you can go through Tampa International Airport (follow the signs for the terminal and airport exit). 

Overall, the entire maze of temporary lanes, 45 mph reduced speed limits and temporary lane shifts on Interstate 275 in Tampa between Kennedy Blvd. (Exit 39, FL 60) and downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough River should be history by sometime in 2016 when all is said and done.  We’ll have not only a wider Interstate 275 to travel on, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a commuter rail line in the center?  After all, Interstate 275 in Tampa is being reconstructed to accommodate a commuter rail line sometime in the future; after all, the Tampa Bay region needs commuter rail if it wants to be competitive with Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando which already have commuter rail systems.

What can we do about wrong way incursions?

First of all I would like to wish all of our Interstate275Florida.com visitors a very Merry Christmas and a very prosperous 2015!  I cannot believe it, 2014 has come and gone just like that.
Unfortunately, 2014 for Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region has been beset by not one or two but so many incidents of incursions by wrong way drivers – drivers going the wrong direction on Interstate 275, either southbound in the northbound lanes or northbound in the southbound lanes.  Either way, these incidents are approaching an alarming trend!
In fact, as I am writing this entry I heard of yet another wrong way incident on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg, according to ABC Action News.  A driver fleeing a traffic stop somehow entered Interstate 275 at 54 Av N (Exit 26) going southbound in the northbound lanes.  The driver got off at 38 Av N (Exit 25) but somehow abandoned the vehicle somewhere and fled on foot; luckily St. Petersburg Police arrested the driver on numerous charges.  Luckily only minor injuries were reported according to the ABC Action News article.
How can we stop this alarming trend of motorists going the wrong way on Interstate 275?  For starters, most of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region is separated by either double sided guardrail or by Jersey Barrier Wall which prevents motorists from going to the other side of Interstate 275 in the wrong direction on the Interstate 275 mainline proper.
Then you got your signage on the Interstate 275 ramps, especially the Do Not Enter/Wrong Way signage placed by the Florida DOT in accordance with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the handbook published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as the Bible of all traffic control devices in the United States including proper placement of signage.  Wrong way signage begins with Do Not Enter/Wrong Way signage placed at the end of the exit ramp facing motorists going in the wrong direction.  Halfway between the cross street and the main line a set of Wrong Way signage flanks either side of the ramp, again facing motorists going in the wrong direction.
At some rural interchanges on Interstate 75, particularly at Exit 293 (CR 41 to Dade City in Pasco County), there is installed a set of red lights and an alarm bell on the off ramps to warn motorists twofold:  One for motorists going in the correct direction that a motorist has entered the highway in the wrong direction and another facing the motorist actually going in the wrong direction.
Just recently the Florida DOT installed enhanced Wrong Way signage at Exit 51 from Interstate 275 (that’s Fowler Avenue, FL 582) on the northbound exit ramp onto Fowler Avenue.  Not only there are Wrong Way signs, there are red lights that surround the signs themselves which are activated upon a motorist going the wrong direction.
But what does all that Do Not Enter/Wrong Way signage – even the signage supplemented by red traffic signals and audible alarms – do when motorists ignore the signage and dangerously go the wrong way on Interstate 275?  At the rate these wrong way incidents are taking place, it is a matter of time before a wrong way incident becomes a major Interstate 275 pileup resulting in needless serious injury and/or property damage, not to mention needless lives lost.
Well, I think I may have the solution to the ever growing problem of wrong way movements on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region.  The answer is here and in two parts.  But please let me emphasize this is only a suggestion.
1.  Install resistance type gates similar to what is found on the reversible express lanes of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  If a motorist enters Interstate 275 in the wrong direction an alarm would sound accompanied by flashing red lights alerting motorists of a wrong way driver.  Within seconds the resistance type gates would lower onto the width of the exit ramp preventing the wrong way driver from entering the Interstate 275 mainline.  However, there is a trade-off as far as the motorist going the correct direction is concerned:  Motorists would have to stop when the gates lower.  Sure it would be an inconvenience, but there is a bigger dividend when lives are saved.  Variable message signs in the vicinity of where the motorist entered Interstate 275 in the wrong direction would warn motorists going in the correct direction of the incident taking place and to advise exiting Interstate 275 at another exit close by.
2.  Install tire spikes similar to the tire spikes found in parking garages but the tire spikes would be constructed in ground.  Normal operation would be for the spikes to be retracted in the ground but upon detection of a wrong way driver flashing red lights would go off alerting motorists of the situation at hand and the spikes would raise which would severely damage the tires of a wrong way motorist.  (Motorists going the correct direction would not be affected).  I would supplement this with regular railroad crossing style gates which would lower at the same time the spikes go up.  Again variable message signs in the vicinity of the incident would warn and advise motorists to use an alternate exit close by.
Sure the Florida DOT can do only so much to try to prevent incidents of wrong way entry onto Interstate 275.  But I feel much more can be done here than just signage and signals.
This is what I think from a layman’s point of view as to how incidents of wrong way driving on Interstate 275 can be reduced or even eliminated.  Yes there could be a lot of pitfalls from a liability standpoint but what can you do to prevent wrong way incursions onto Interstate 275?
If you got a better idea to help reduce or even eliminate wrong way incursions on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region I want to hear from you.  You can sound off by leaving a comment, but please keep the comments clean.
 

Greenlight Pinellas: What St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay Region Needs!

On 4 November 2014 we go to the polls to elect who will be our next Governor of the State of Florida among other things.  However, if you live in Pinellas County, keep reading this blog as I want to speak with you about a referendum that will mean the difference as far as mass transit is concerned in Pinellas County as well as the Tampa Bay region as a whole.
That referendum is called Greenlight Pinellas.
Greenlight Pinellas is a referendum, if approved by the voters of Pinellas County on 4 November 2014, will pave the way for better and more enhanced bus service plus the implementation of light rail mass transit.  It would increase the county discretionary sales tax while at the same time it would eliminate the tax for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority from your property tax bill if you own a home in Pinellas County.
Now you’re saying to yourself, “another tax?”  That answer is no, Greenlight Pinellas is not another tax.  Instead, Greenlight Pinellas shifts the tax from the homeowner to anyone who pays sales tax on most items we buy at the store.
OK.  By now you are saying to yourself that you are skeptical of another tax.  If you keep reading you will understand why Greenlight Pinellas is needed and the benefits for you Pinellas County residents, especially if you live on one side of Pinellas County and commute to work on the other side of Pinellas.
Let’s say you live, say, in Palm Harbor.  You commute to your job daily in downtown St. Petersburg.  The current situation as it is now as far as transit in Pinellas County is concerned there is infrequent bus service, not to mention the fact that you have to change buses somewhere in order to reach your destination.
As transit in Pinellas County as well as the Tampa Bay region is iffy at best, most of us have to depend on our automobiles in order to commute to work daily.  However, there are people out there that cannot or do not have the financial resources to own an automobile which effectively shuts a lot of people out of plenty of employment opportunities.
Besides, owning an automobile is great as is allows you plenty of flexibility.  However, owning an automobile carries with it a lot of financial obligations:
1.  Gasoline for your automobile.  You and I know that we have to fill up at least once a week, if not more depending on how you use your automobile.  Then you have to take into consideration the rising and falling level of gasoline prices, similar to what a magician does when he or she performs the levitation illusion.  When was the last time Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region saw gas prices exceed $4.00 a gallon?
2.  Repairs and maintenance for your automobile.  Yes you got to keep the oil changed in your automobile and perform all the other maintenance tasks in order to keep your automobile in peak operating condition.  That can set you back a good sum of money depending on which maintenance procedure you need to perform, whether you take your automobile to the dealer or to the service facility of your choice.
3.  Insurance.  You and I know that insurance for your automobile is not an option – it is the law in Florida that you must carry insurance on your automobile.  The premium you pay for automobile insurance depends on a lot of factors, and one of them is how long is your commute to work one way daily.
For instance, let’s say you live in the New Tampa area of Tampa off of Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and you commute to work in downtown St. Petersburg daily using Interstate 275.  That’s a long commute to work!  As such, expect to pay a higher insurance premium compared to if your place of employment was just around the corner.
After all, we could think about living close to our places of employment but that would more than likely be prohibitively expensive depending on where you work.
4.  For those of you that work in downtown St. Petersburg, there is yet an additional expense for owning an automobile:  Parking in a downtown St. Petersburg parking garage or lot which sets you back quite a sum a month.  No matter why downtown St. Petersburg employers have trouble trying to hire and retain great talent:  Working in downtown St. Petersburg can get very expensive, especially on the small to medium salaries offered.
Speaking of commuting to work by using your personal automobile, more than likely you use at one point or another Interstate 275 to get to where you are going.  Unfortunately, you hit the heavy traffic that crawls to a snail’s pace during the morning or evening commute.
One of the many reasons companies lose valuable team players:  The commute to and from work is too long, which seriously disrupts the work-life balance.
Of course we can widen Interstate 275 to, let’s say twenty lanes.  Would that solve the problem?  Probably not.
Presently Interstate 275 is being widened and reconstructed in Tampa from Exit 39 (FL 60) to just west of Exit 44 (Ashley/Tampa/Scott Streets).  In fact, an important feature of the Interstate 275 reconstruction is a wide median so that a future commuter rail line could be built.
Which leads us to the Howard Frankland Bridge, connecting Pinellas with Hillsborough County.
Presently the original 1960 span – the span that initially carried two way traffic with two lanes in each direction, now the northbound span which was converted in 1991 when a four lane southbound span was opened – is almost at its end of service life.  From what I understand the plan is to replace the Howard Frankland northbound span with a new northbound span just to the south of where the current northbound span is now, and use the footprint of the current northbound span for a possible light and/or commuter rail line.
This is where a light rail line from Pinellas County could be routed to Tampa International Airport as well as downtown Tampa.  After all, light rail in Pinellas County is in the Greenlight Pinellas plan and adding that important connection to Tampa via Interstate 275 would be an asset.
Another aspect of why Interstate 275 could not be widened any further is the price of land.  After all, if land has to be acquired by the Florida DOT for an Interstate 275 project that adds to the cost of a project quite significantly, given today’s slowly recovering real estate market.  Besides, land especially in Pinellas County is at a premium.
Of course rail based mass transit is the key.  You can build on rail based mass transit by adding better bus service as an enhancement to rail service.
Let’s talk rail based mass transit for a moment.
Realize that Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and now Orlando have rail based commuter rail systems, Tri-Rail and SunRail respectively.  Tri-Rail was originally implemented as a temporary solution while Interstate 95 is being totally reconstructed.  Instead, Tri-Rail was kept and the people of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale now have better choices when it comes to mobility.
Unfortunately, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region has practically no rail based mass transit, the only exceptions being either the TECO Street Car connecting Tampa’s Ybor City entertainment district with downtown Tampa or the weekend excursions between Parrish and Willow provided by the Florida Railroad Museum in Manatee County.
If you want to experience rail travel without the expense of staying overnight somewhere, the Florida Railroad Museum has something for you every weekend with train rides at 11 AM and 2 PM Saturdays and Sundays.  Special themed events are also scheduled throughout the year.
And we can’t forget Amtrak service into Tampa’s Union Station twice daily, the southbound Silver Star (Train 91) to Miami and the northbound Silver Star (Train 92) to Orlando, Jacksonville, Washington D.C. and New York City.
Rail based mass transit – whether it may be light rail or commuter rail – is the choice of travel that we residents of Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region need.  Not only it would help take a good deal of traffic off the roads, it would also be friendly for the environment.  Instead of hopping in your car and traveling on Interstate 275 to work, simply head on over to the rail station and catch the train to work.  While on board, catch up on your morning news on your smartphone and sit back and enjoy the commute while someone else is doing the driving.
Back in 2012 over Labor Day weekend I took a trip to San Diego.  One day I took a ride on the light rail line connecting downtown San Diego with San Ysidro, which is right on the Mexican border and Tijuana is a stone’s throw away as you get off the light rail.  When I was headed back to downtown San Diego to get my car I thought to myself, if San Diego can do this with their light rail solution between downtown San Diego and San Ysidro why can’t St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have a system similar to San Diego’s?
All of this will be possible if we pass Greenlight Pinellas on Tuesday, 4 November 2014.   Greenlight Pinellas will mean the difference as far as mass transit in Pinellas County is concerned.  It will also mean the difference as far as mass transit in the remainder of the Tampa Bay region is concerned:  If Greenlight Pinellas passes, it is more than likely that Hillsborough County will move forward with a similar plan.
So, what are you waiting for?
On Tuesday, 4 November 2014, do whatever it takes to simply head on over to your assigned polling place.  When you arrive present your photo/signature ID to the poll worker and you will be handed a ballot.  Take that ballot to a privacy booth or the ballot marking machine whichever you prefer.  After you complete that ballot, scan your ballot and that’s all there is to it!
After all, Greenlight Pinellas is not only Pinellas County’s future – it is the future of the Tampa Bay region if we want to be competitive.
 

The Dale Mabry Colundrum

As you more than likely know already, the Florida DOT has closed the exit ramp to Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A-B) from southbound Interstate 275.  This is needed so that work can progress on the new southbound lanes of Interstate 275 which is taking shape.
Unfortunately, this closure has created mass confusion as motorists wanting to access Dale Mabry Highway – also known as US 92 – from southbound Interstate 275 must exit at Himes Avenue (Exit 41C).  Adding to the confusion is the fact that motorists must be in the left hand lane to exit; in other words, this is a left exit like its counterparts at Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) and Interstate 175 (Exit 22) in downtown St. Petersburg.  Miss the Himes Avenue exit and you will have to exit at Westshore Blvd.
As in most construction zones, the left exit to Himes Avenue is marked with temporary signage mounted on wooden posts similar to how California mounts their post mounted interstate signage.  So, how do you get to Dale Mabry Highway from southbound Interstate 275, now that you have to exit at Himes Avenue and the exit ramps to Dale Mabry are closed?
It depends on which way you are going on Dale Mabry:
If you are going south on Dale Mabry, take a left onto Himes Avenue and go south to Cypress Street.  West on Cypress Street to Dale Mabry Highway.
If you are going north on Dale Mabry, take a right onto Himes Avenue and go north to Spruce Street.  West on Spruce Street to Dale Mabry Highway.
But what if you are going to Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  It’s simple as taking a right onto Himes Avenue but you want to go straight ahead on Himes Avenue past Columbus Drive and the stadium will be on your left.  Just be sure to follow posted variable message signage for game day parking.
Now I want your opinion on how the Dale Mabry ramp closure is affecting you.  Go ahead, sound off by leaving a comment in the reply box below.  Just make sure to keep the comments clean, that’s all I ask.