Headed to the Florida Railroad Museum from St. Petersburg Soon?

If you’re headed to the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish from St. Petersburg via the Sunshine Skyway Bridge anytime soon, you will want to read this.  An upcoming ramp closure at the southern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 (Exit 228) is going to affect how you are going to get to the Florida Railroad Museum, especially for the upcoming events including the museum’s most popular event in December, the North Pole Express.

Beginning Sunday, 29 July 2018 and continuing for ten (10) months, the overpass flyover bridge connecting southbound Interstate 275 to northbound Interstate 75 will be closed for concrete bridge deck replacement.  Along with the work, according to the Florida DOT, will be roadway resurfacing, guardrail installation and signage replacement.  I have driven over this flyover ramp a lot especially when headed over to the Florida Railroad Museum’s Parrish station and I agree, that flyover bridge deck is in need of replacement.

The southern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75, Exit 228, was originally constructed in the early 1980’s and opened in 1982 when another segment of the Tampa-to-Miami extension of Interstate 75 opened from US 301 (Exit 224) north to Big Bend Road (Exit 246).  When this segment opened the signage for the Interstate 275 southern terminus had “To US 41” signage initially as the remainder of Interstate 275 connecting US 41 to the Sunshine Skyway wasn’t built yet; the connection was finally made in 1984 and the “To US 41” signage was rightfully replaced with Interstate 275 north signage.

From Moccasin Wallow Road (Exit 229, the exit for the Florida Railroad Museum) southward to FL 681 (Exit 200) the original Interstate 75 mainline pavement was concrete but due to extensive settlement issues the concrete pavement was replaced with asphalt sometime in the 1990’s.  The flyover bridge from southbound Interstate 275 to northbound Interstate 75 has been repaired numerous times and those repairs do show on the bridge deck itself resulting in a somewhat bumpy ride.

So, the Florida DOT is going to address the issue of the flyover bridge from southbound Interstate 275 to northbound Interstate 75 at Exit 228 by replacing the bridge concrete deck.  Now for those of you that use this ramp to get from southbound Interstate 275 to northbound Interstate 75 which free flows into Moccasin Wallow Road (Exit 229) providing for easy Florida Railroad Museum access, that’s going to change as that ramp has to be closed so that the bridge deck can be replaced.

To get to the Florida Railroad Museum from St. Petersburg via the Sunshine Skyway Bridge while the flyover ramp is being reconstructed follow this detour:

  1.  Follow Interstate 75 south for Naples.  There are two lanes that free flow onto southbound Interstate 75.  But don’t worry, you’re not going to Naples – instead, you’re going to the next exit, US 301 (Exit 224).
  2. Exit Interstate 75 south at Exit 224, which will be US 301 to Palmetto and Ellenton.  You want to go north on US 301 through Ellenton.  Both Ellenton and Parrish are close to each other.
  3. North on US 301 for 7 miles to Parrish.  Immediately after passing the turn for FL 62 to Wauchula, cross the railroad tracks and make a right turn at 83 St E.
  4. Once you made that right turn, you have arrived at the Florida Railroad Museum!

Please allow yourself plenty of time to get to the museum, especially if you will be attending any of the events being held at the museum including the North Pole Express.  Especially for the North Pole Express, you want to be there as early as possible to pick up your tickets at Will Call and be on board the train prior to departure – the train departs on time as scheduled!

Additionally, if you need to get to northbound Interstate 75 from southbound Interstate 275 during the ramp closure, you can also use Interstate 75 south to US 301 (Exit 224) and turn around there.  When I read the Florida DOT project flyer for the Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 75 northbound bridge deck replacement project, I was surprised to see the official detour the Florida DOT wants you to take:  Exit Interstate 275 at Exit 2 to US 41, then north on US 41 to FL 674 in Ruskin.  I don’t know what the detour planners at the Florida DOT were thinking of, but that route I think is way out of the way when closer alternatives exist (such as US 301, Exit 224) and there is an 11 mile separation between Moccasin Wallow Road (Exit 229) and FL 674 to Sun City Center and Ruskin (Exit 240).

In short, the flyover ramp connecting southbound Interstate 275 with northbound Interstate 75 at Interstate 275’s southern terminus on Interstate 75 at Exit 228 in Manatee County west of Parrish will be closed for about 10 months for needed bridge deck replacement.  Being an important route for those from St. Petersburg using the Sunshine Skyway Bridge reaching the Florida Railroad Museum, the detour is going to add to your travel time to the museum, so plan accordingly and arrive in plenty of time to pick up tickets and be on board the train prior to departure.

Interstate 75’s National Northern Terminus

While I was watching President Barack Obama taking the oath of office of President of the United States for his second term on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, 21 January 2013, I came across an interesting YouTube video and I watched it in the background (I had the YouTube sound turned down while at the same time I had the Presidential Inauguration on my HDTV).

As you and I know, Interstate 275’s northern Tampa Bay Region terminus is located at Exit 59, which is the exit for FL 56 in Wesley Chapel.  FL 56 shares the same exit with Interstate 75 as Exit 275 while the actual exit for southbound Interstate 275 from southbound Interstate 75 is Exit 274.  I am grateful that the Florida DOT made this correction as far as the exit from northbound Interstate 275 to FL 56 is concerned in order to avoid motorist confusion.

Now do you know where Interstate 75’s national northern terminus is?  We know where Interstate 75’s national southern terminus is located, at FL 826 in Hialeah just outside of Miami.

While this may not be Interstate 275 related, remember that Interstate 75 is the parent route of four Interstate 275 routes, one in the Tampa Bay Region (Tampa/St. Petersburg) and the other three are located in:

1.  Knoxville, Tennessee:  Formerly a part of Interstate 75, Interstate 275 exists as a spur from Interstate 640 (of which Interstate 75 is routed upon as a bypass route) to downtown Knoxville just south of Interstate 40.  This section is considered more of a spur route than a through or bypass route, as the first even digit of a three digit interstate route number is supposed to be for routes that rejoin the parent route elsewhere, such as a bypass route.  Perhaps the Tennessee DOT in cooperation with the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) could have designated that extant segment of Interstate 75 in Knoxville – when it got rerouted onto Interstate 640 as a bypass route in 1982 as part of the World’s Fair celebrations – as Interstate 175.  Besides, the same three digit number can be used in a different state.

2.  Cincinnati, Ohio:  Here is an Interstate 275 that really shows its true purpose when the Interstate Highway System was conceived in 1956:  A circumfrential bypass of the Cincinnati metropolitan area.  What makes this Interstate 275 so special is that it spans three states:  Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana for a short segment.

3.  Detroit, Michigan:  This Interstate 275 was supposed to be a bypass of the Detroit metropolitan area from Interstate 75 south of Monroe to somewhere in Springfield Township (Davisburg) in upscale Oakland County, Michigan.  Unfortunately, NIMBY prevailed in Oakland County and Interstate 275 was truncated to its present day terminus at Interstates 96 and 696 in Farmington Hills.

Detroit – along with Tampa/St. Petersburg – are two major metropolitan areas in the United States without any meaningful mass transit system.  According to Wikipedia’s page on Pontiac, Michigan, there was once a commuter rail service that ran to Detroit as part of the Southeastern Michigan Transportation Authority, but service was discontinued in October 1983 and efforts are under way to restore service.  A workable mass transit system including commuter rail is needed if Detroit wants to recover in the economy and compete with other American metropolitan areas.  So does the Tampa/St. Petersburg area too.

If the Michigan DOT could not complete Interstate 275 to its proposed northern terminus in Springfield Township, it could be renumbered as a possible Interstate 175 as Interstate 275 does not reconnect with Interstate 75 at another point.  Unfortunately, the Michigan DOT can’t change an interstate number on its own whim – instead, it has to go through the hoops of AASHTO and the FHWA for their review and approval.

By the way, Detroit has another three digit Interstate 75 route:  Interstate 375, which is a spur into downtown Detroit just like Interstate 375 into downtown St. Petersburg.  I included this just to give you an idea of how a three digit interstate highway is properly numbered:  Odd digits represent spurs, while even digits represent bypasses.

Now if you think Interstate 75 ends in Detroit, you are wrong.  From Detroit, Interstate 75 passes by Pontiac, then Grand Blanc, Flint, Bay City and Grayling.  Just before St. Ignace is another major bridge crossing the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Michigan with Lake Huron:  The Mackinac Bridge, which was completed in 1957.  Both the Mackinac Bridge and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge – the Sunshine Skyway being a part of Interstate 275 – are a part of the Interstate 75 system in its own right.

Right after crossing the Mackinac Bridge Interstate 75 enters Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and passes by the city of St. Ignace.  Another 50+ miles later, Interstate 75’s next city is Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  What makes Sault Ste. Marie special is that it is the home of the national northern terminus of Interstate 75, right after you pass Exit 394, Easterday Avenue.  Beyond Easterday Avenue is a toll plaza for the international bridge that connects Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan with its twin sister, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

Speaking of the YouTube video I was watching while I had the Presidential Inauguration on TV, here it is, courtesy of YouTube user Cochrab:
Perhaps the Michigan DOT could place a mileage sign on southbound Interstate 75 just south of Easterday Avenue in Sault Ste. Marie showing the mileage not only to Detroit, but to Tampa as well as Interstate 75’s national southern terminus in Miami.  I put Tampa in there as Interstate 75 is a sentimental favorite of vacationers who make the trip south to Florida for the winter as well as those who use Interstate 75 to head south to Florida for the perfect Florida vacation!  Most Canadian “snowbirds” usually join Interstate 75 in Detroit after crossing the Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and clearing U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but there are some snowbirds that make the complete Interstate 75 crossing from Sault Ste. Marie too.
Besides, if you are headed southbound on Interstate 75 going over the Florida state line from Georgia, several miles after the Florida Welcome Center you start seeing signage not only for Tampa, but for Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg.  Perhaps the Florida DOT put up those mileage to Interstate 275 signs on southbound Interstate 75 right after the Florida Welcome Center for that “you’re almost there” look and feel.

So, I’d thought I give you a little insight as to where Interstate 75 – the parent of our Interstate 275 here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area – goes if you were to just drive north.  Instead of stopping in Wesley Chapel, you would pass through northern Florida and cross Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan and – 394 miles from the Ohio-Michigan border – Sault Ste. Marie, Easterday Avenue and the international bridge that separates the United States from Canada.  After all, Interstate 75 is over 1,780 miles of interstate highway pleasure, ready at your service.

What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center

Just recently (in fact, over the past Thanksgiving holiday weekend) I took a trip to the Jacksonville area, which included not one but two incursions into the State of Georgia:  One in Folkston (a railfan’s paradise as so many CSX and Amtrak trains come through here in order to get to Florida destinations) and the other in Valdosta.

Crossing back into the State of Florida I happened to stop by the official Florida Welcome Centers, one on Interstate 95 north of Yulee and the other on Interstate 75 in Jennings, which is south of Valdosta across the Georgia border.  Not only you get information on which area of Florida you are headed to, you can also sample the beverage that makes Florida so famous:  Orange juice.  While you are there, you can also pick up a copy of the official Florida state map, which is free of charge.

Visiting the two Florida Welcome Centers gave me an inspiration for my next blog topic:  What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center.  I was originally going to post this over at my other blog, the Edward Ringwald Blog, but for the convenience of our visitors to the Sunshine State as well as our residents headed home to the land of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay Region, I thought I would post this here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog for the convenience of our visitors.
Now here’s what you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center, and there are two types:  The official and the unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

The official Florida Welcome Center is found on interstate highways leading into our great State of Florida:  Interstates 75 and 95 from Georgia and Interstate 10 from Alabama.  Signage for the official Florida Welcome Center is always erected by the Florida DOT and you will see blue overhead signage letting you know that the State of Florida Welcome Center is coming up just after you cross the state line from Georgia or Alabama, like the example shown below of the Florida Welcome Center on Interstate 75 just after crossing over the Florida state line from Georgia:
The official Florida Welcome Center is where you get official Florida tourist information.  The helpful and friendly staff will assist you in getting the information you need for the part of Florida you are headed to – even if you are headed for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and the land of Interstate 275!  In addition, you can also get major road construction information straight from the official source:  The Florida DOT.  (In fact, this information is also posted at Florida’s rest areas and Florida Turnpike service plazas too!)

Now for the other type of Florida Welcome Center I need to tell you about:  The unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

You will see them advertised not on official Florida DOT signage, but on huge billboards that line Interstates 75, 95 and 10 either before you cross the state line into Florida or after you cross.  In order to get to one of these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers, you have to exit the interstate highway.

You may think that these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers feature the same thing that is offered at the official Florida Welcome Centers, but there is a difference:  The sale of Orlando area theme park tickets such as Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios Florida or even Legoland in Winter Haven, especially at cut rate prices or given away for free.

RED FLAG!!!

You never know what these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers may be offering:  Information that may be outdated.  As for the Orlando area theme park tickets, those tickets offered either at a cut rate price or for free will more than likely come with an overly aggressive presentation for a time share which you will more than likely have to sit through to get these tickets.  And another thing, you never know how good the tickets are:  You fall for the time share pitch and you get the tickets, only to be refused admittance at the gate because the tickets are no good!

In fact, the unofficial Florida Welcome Centers is one of eight common mistakes when traveling to the Orlando area and the land of Mickey Mouse, according to this article on about.com.  Besides, you don’t need to endure plenty of fear and anxiety after a long trip thanks to those time share hucksters perched on the sides of Interstate 75 whose sole purpose is to part you from your hard earned money.
As in any real estate transaction, consultation with an attorney who specializes in real estate law is highly recommended.  This is very true if you are considering buying a time share.
The bottom line is this:

Whether you are a visitor to our great State of Florida or you are a resident headed back home after a long trip, if you need traveler information the best resource is the official Florida Welcome Center.  There you will get the latest up to date information you need and the information is given to you – and you don’t have to fall to an unwanted time share sales pitch!
And by the way, if you’re headed south on Interstate 75 towards the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, approximately 193 miles stands between the official Florida Welcome Center in Jennings (the first exit on Interstate 75 southbound in Florida is FL 143, Exit 467) and the northern terminus of Interstate 275 (Exit 274) located on the Hillsborough-Pasco county line in Wesley Chapel.

Thanksgiving Travel Tips

I came across some helpful Thanksgiving travel tips from Meredyth Censullo, who is ABC Action News’ traffic reporter (WFTS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in Tampa).  She’s got some great Thanksgiving travel tips to keep in mind as you go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go!
Here are some important tips when you set out on the Tampa Bay region’s highways including Interstate 275, whether it may be a short trip across town or a long trip across the state (or even across the country):
1.  If your trip involves car travel, check to be sure that your car is in tip top shape.  That means checking all the essential fluids such as your oil level among other things.  That will save you from a mechanical breakdown, especially when you are hundreds of miles from home.
Plan how you will get to Grandma’s.  You can use Google Maps or your favorite map program out there on the Internet.
You’ll also want to check to make sure that your windshield washer is topped off.  Also check your spare tire and make sure that there are no defects and check your regular tires to make sure that they are inflated properly and that there are no defects as well.
Also check all your lights including your headlights and turn signals too.  Make sure that everything is in working order.
If you got OnStar (the best thing out there since the invention of the motor vehicle), check to make sure that it works.  Simply press the black OnStar phone button; if you hear the phrase “OnStar ready” you’re in business!  If you need to add more minutes to your OnStar hands free calling do so; it’s much better to use your OnStar hands free calling rather than using your cell phone while driving.  In fact, in several states (including California) hands free is not an option – it’s the law.
Also be sure that your SunPass is topped off as needed.  Having a SunPass gets you through Florida’s toll roads much quicker (and you can save some money in the process too!) and if you are driving toll roads in South Florida as well as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway here in Tampa you need a SunPass – no cash is collected as these toll roads are all open road tolling.
Get a good night’s rest – you will need it!
2.  Allow plenty of time to get to your destination safely.  Everything will more than likely be crowded no matter which way you get to Grandma’s:  Interstate 275, Southwest Airlines (or your airline), or Amtrak.
3.  If you’re traveling via Southwest Airlines (or any other airline), be sure to get to the airport early.  That way, you can get checked in especially if you have baggage to check and clear security in order to get to your gate.  Be sure to check in for your flight 24 hours in advance of your flight’s departure (by the way, if you have Early Bird Check In on Southwest, this is done for you – all you got to do is print your boarding pass either at home or at the airport).
Airport parking – especially parking at Tampa International Airport – will more than likely be at a premium thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays.  If at all possible, take a taxi or SuperShuttle or have a friend drive you to the airport.
4.  If you’re traveling via Amtrak out of Tampa Union Station, be sure to arrive early.  If you have already printed your eTicket from the Amtrak website and you have no baggage to check, simply show your eTicket to the conductor for scanning and you’re all set!  However, if you have baggage to check be sure to arrive in plenty of time so that the station agent can check in your items.
Like Tampa International Airport, parking at Tampa Union Station will more than likely be at a premium due to the Thanksgiving holidays.  You might want to take a taxi or have a friend drive you to the train station.
5.  While you are out and about on the road, in the event of an accident give the Florida Highway Patrol a call at *FHP (*347) on your cell phone.  However, in the event of an accident involving serious injury always call 911!  By the way, *FHP can also be used in case your car breaks down on the highway; a Road Ranger will be dispatched to your location.
On Interstate 275 north of Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) and south of US 19 (Exit 5) as well as Interstate 75 there are motorist aid call boxes on either side of the highway.  If you need assistance and you are near one of these call boxes simply lift the handle and press the button for the service needed; after pressing the buttion return to your car and wait for assistance to arrive.
If you happen to own a car that is equipped with OnStar and you have a breakdown, simply press the blue OnStar button and an OnStar representative will send out assistance to where you’re located.  In the event of an accident, press the red OnStar emergency button and a specially trained OnStar representative will send emergency help to where you’re located.
If it’s a long road trip to Grandma’s, consider taking a break for every three or four hours of driving.  Feel free to stop at a rest area, a welcome center (particularly if you crossed into another state such as Georgia), a service plaza (like that on the Florida Turnpike), an interstate interchange oasis (such as what you will find on Interstate 75 at Exit 329, which is FL 44 to Wildwood) or even a small town if it’s close by.
6.  While we’re on the same topic of being out and about on the road, if you see an impaired or aggressive driver please call *FHP (if life or property is in immediate danger, call 911).  After all, the Florida Highway Patrol wants to know and FHP will send a Trooper out to apprehend the driver, hopefully before there is a serious accident.
Stay within the speed limit – after all, there’s nothing to be gained by going faster than the flow of traffic.
Be mindful of Florida’s Move Over Law:  If you see emergency vehicles on the side of the road, move over and give these workers room.
Most importantly, don’t drink and drive!  Remember:  Over the limit = under arrest!
7.  If you have a Florida driver’s license, did you know that you can update your emergency contact information?  This enables law enforcement officers to notify your loved ones in the event you are in a serious accident.  What are you waiting for?  Enter your emergency contact information today!
8.  Pay attention to the gigantic green overhead signs mounted over the highway, especially if you are on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region.  Pay special attention to the word “Left” in black letters on a yellow background:  This means that the exit you are approaching is a left exit and you must be in the left lane to exit the highway.
The exit to Howard and Armenia Avenues (Exit 42) on southbound Interstate 275 are temporary left exits while construction is underway to widen Interstate 275 in the area.  As you travel through construction areas, be sure to pay attention to any temporary signage erected and reduce your speed.
Once you exit Interstate 275 or any other limited access highway, reduce your speed for the off ramp as well as the street you have exited onto.
9.  Helpful websites:
Interstate275Florida.com:  See what your exit looks like at your destination before you hit the road.
Tampa Bay Interstates:  Information from the Florida DOT on interstate construction in the Tampa Bay region.
Florida 511:  Information on interstate conditions not only from the Tampa Bay region but the rest of the State of Florida as well.
As Thanksgiving is the gateway to the holiday season, have a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season!  Let’s be careful out there on Interstate 275 and drive safely!

Be careful in adverse weather!

Friday, 5 October 2012.  It was a beautiful day on Interstate 75 at the University Parkway exit.  After all, University Parkway forms the county boundary between Manatee and Sarasota counties, separating Bradenton from Sarasota.
Until the rain moved in.
A mixture of rain plus fast moving traffic on southbound Interstate 75 made for a dangerous cocktail:  A 47-vehicle pileup closing Interstate 75’s southbound lanes for several hours.  Traffic was backed up as motorists had to exit Interstate 75 at University Parkway and re-enter Interstate 75 there.
Area hospitals went on trauma alert, expecting mass casualties.  When a hospital goes on trauma alert, it reminds me of the scenes on TV’s ER, especially the part where Dr. Kerry Weaver (played by one of my favorite actresses, Laura Innes) rallies up the troops at Cook County General Hospital in Chicago.  Luckily, in the Interstate 75 pileup no casualties were reported but according to Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times, 52 people were injured with 22 people transported to area hospitals.
I left a comment at the St. Petersburg Times article giving some safety tips when you encounter adverse weather on the Tampa Bay region’s interstate highways including Interstate 275, and I would like to share them with you now that we are about to climb out of the summer afternoon thundershower season and slowly transition into the fall and winter cold front season where we have plenty of rainy weather as one of the cold fronts passes through our area.  In fact, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper that was interviewed on Bay News 9 gave some great advice that you should follow when you encounter adverse weather out there on our highways.
70 mph (or the speed limit applicable in the area, such as most sections of Interstate 275 posted for 65 mph) is not always 70 mph. When you encounter adverse weather, driving conditions change in a heartbeat.

If you encounter adverse weather conditions, especially on Interstates 75, 275 or 4, slow your vehicle down. Turn on your low beam headlights and your wipers. A good rule of thumb: When the wipers come on, so does your low beam headlights.  You must keep your vehicle under control at all times, especially during adverse weather conditions.

Don’t put your emergency flashers on when you are moving in the rain. Emergency flashers are meant for when your vehicle is disabled and off to the shoulder, not for when you are moving on the highway in the rain. Besides, someone can rear end you and it is against the law.

On a side note, I have seen a good number of motorists out there on Interstate 275 that use their emergency flashers when moving in the rain.  All you need is your wipers and your low beam headlights (when you turn on your low beam headlights, your rear taillights come on as well); the use of parking lights, daytime running lamps as well as the use of your emergency flashers don’t comply with Section 316.217 and Section 316.2397 of the Florida Statutes.
If you have a recent model year car, chances are that your car is equipped with daytime running lamps that enable you to be seen during the day.  Some cars even have a sensor that turns on the headlights for you when it gets dark.  Evern if your car has that automatic headlight sensor, it is very important to know where your headlight switch is so that you can turn on your low beam headlights whenever you encounter adverse weather such as heavy rain or fog.

And one more thing: Don’t be in a hurry to get where you are going, especially when the weather gets bad. It’s better to be a few minutes late than several hours in the hospital ER, or worse. Also, if the weather deteriorates to the point where you can’t see, get off the interstate at the next exit and pull into a parking area (such as a gas station or convenience store) and wait until conditions are better. 

 

And I forgot one more thing that you should do as a motorist when you encounter adverse weather on Interstate 275 or any other highway elsewhere:  Put down that cell phone, iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid or any communications device and give driving your 150 percent attention, especially during adverse weather conditions.  That all too important phone call, business transaction or text message can wait until you arrive safely at your destination.

 

On a side note regarding cell phone use and driving, while Florida has no law on that subject (and our legislators in Tallahassee need to stop being so lazy and enact such a law) California has a comprehensive law that bans the use of any communications device while behind the wheel.  I recently got back from a trip to San Diego over the Labor Day weekend and I was reminded of the provisions of the no cell phone use law while driving per the California Vehicle Code when I went to pick up my rental car.

 

Let’s be careful out there on Interstate 275 as well as the other major highways in the Tampa Bay region, especially when you encounter adverse weather.

Here a Ramp, There a Ramp…

I know, it’s been a while since I posted here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog. My days have been so busy at the office; with the staffing reductions that have taken place at where I work I have been taking on more and more stuff. When 5 o’clock rolls around after a very busy day you just want to pick up dinner, bring it home, and stretch out on the easy chair while you watch your big screen TV.

Enough of that for now. Lately there were two things taking place recently as far as Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area is concerned, so let’s get right down to business.

First, a new ramp has opened at Interstate 275’s northern terminus. Actually, it’s the ramp to FL 56 near the Pasco County town of Wesley Chapel that has been recently extended to accommodate traffic from not only northbound Interstate 275 the new ramp also accommodates traffic from northbound Interstate 75 as well.

So, how do you exit at FL 56 if you are coming from northbound Interstate 275 or 75? It’s easy: Just watch for the newly installed overhead signage for FL 56 and be prepared to be in your lane for the exit. If you are coming from northbound Interstate 275 you will use a dedicated flyover overpass going over Interstate 75 which is the off ramp to FL 56.

The purpose of lengthening the exit ramp at FL 56 is to separate traffic headed for the many residential developments in the area while at the same time keep traffic intended to transition from northbound Interstate 275 to northbound Interstate 75 moving at freeway speed. It also eliminates a dangerous weaving movement that used to exist when you transitioned onto Interstate 75 north from Interstate 275 and you had the FL 56 exit; remember when you had to do the “Hail Mary Pass” to get over to the next lane if you wanted to go north on Interstate 75 from Interstate 275 to avoid the exit only lane of FL 56?

While we’re on the subject of FL 56, the new exit ramp from northbound Interstate 275 and 75 carries Interstate 75’s exit number, Exit 275. To me, this is confusing to motorists as visitors from out of town coming to the Tampa Bay area to visit get the exit number confused for the Interstate route number that takes motorists into Tampa as well as St. Petersburg. For instance, a first time visitor to the Tampa Bay area arriving by motor vehicle will use Interstate 75 headed south. Along the way, mileage signs count the distance to the exit for Interstate 275.

Once the first time visitor passes the rest area in Wesley Chapel the visitor sees signage for Exit 275, which in reality is FL 56. The visitor exits at this exit, thinking that it is Interstate 275 and the visitor gets lost when he or she finds out that FL 56 is not the way to St. Petersburg – instead, the road merges into FL 54 to its western terminus at US 19 south of New Port Richey.

The exit for Interstate 275 south from Interstate 75 south is actually Exit 274. The only signage for the real Interstate 275 is a small trailblazer-type sign mounted on the right side of Interstate 75 south before approaching FL 56. Right after the FL 56 exit comes a series of large overhead guide signs for southbound Interstate 275 with an Exit 274 tab mounted on the upper right hand corner above the sign.

The Florida DOT needs to fix this confusing mess. As Florida’s interstate highway exits are now based on the mile marker based numbering system, I have driven by there and seen a 275 mile marker sign in the area where the interchange for Interstates 75 and 275 are located. According to generally adopted principles for mile marker based exit numbering, the interchange for Interstates 75 and 275 should have the designation of being Exit 275 and the interchange for FL 56 at Interstate 75 should have the designation of being Exit 276. I have also seen a 276 mile marker sign in the vicinity of the FL 56 interchange as well. Further north on Interstate 75, the next exit after the rest area is Exit 279, Pasco County Road 54 and Temporary FL 54.

OK. Let’s head south on Interstate 275 through Tampa and over the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg so that I can tell you about another ramp; this time, the ramp at 38 Av N (Exit 25) from southbound Interstate 275. Being a dedicated exit only ramp, it has been the subject of a recent story by Bay News 9’s Real Time Traffic reporter Chuck Henson about drivers who use the exit only lane as a passing lane, cutting back over into the right through lane just before the 38 Av N exit. After seeing how this exit ramp is set up for myself, this ramp is an accident waiting to happen.

Just recently the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) began an enforcement program on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg with an emphasis on speeders, aggressive drivers and seat belt violators. The operation is called Saving A Life Through Enforcement, or SALTE. According to the Bay News 9 article FHP recently issued 34 tickets to motorists on a small stretch of Interstate 275 between 38 Av N (Exit 25) and 54 Av N (Exit 26); the majority of these tickets were for motorists caught crossing what traffic engineers call the “theoretical gore”, the paved space where a ramp diverges from the mainline and is marked by heavy duty striping to discourage exiting motorists from jumping back onto the mainline at the last minute causing a potential accident.

How did this ramp configuration on southbound Interstate 275 at 38 Av N came to fruition? Well, here is a history which leads up to the present ramp configuration in place.

When this section of Interstate 275 opened in 1974, 38 Av N was at one time designated as a temporary end as construction progressed southward through St. Petersburg. The right lane then was a through lane with an exit ramp onto 38 Av N from southbound Interstate 275. Meanwhile, the left lane on the Interstate 275 mainline ended and merged into the middle lane which marked the transition from a middle lane to a left lane; signage was erected in the median stating that the left lane was ending in 1,000 and 500 feet respectively. That meant dangerous merges from an ending lane into a through lane.

During the 1989 sign replacement project the left lane was converted from an ending left lane to a through left lane. At the same time the right through lane was converted into a dedicated exit only lane for 38 Av N and overhead signage was installed reflecting the fact that the lane is now a dedicated exit lane rather than a through lane.

Perhaps the Florida DOT can make some improvements at the ramp to 38 Av N from southbound Interstate 275:

1. Remove the concrete pavement in what used to be the through right lane immediately beyond the entrance to the ramp to 38 Av N from southbound Interstate 275. This would put more meaning into the words “Exit Only” on overhead signage in black letters on a yellow background.

2. Remove the asphalt pavement that is now the through left lane and replace it with concrete, matching it up with the rest of the concrete pavement in the interchange area.

3. Remove the second entrance ramp onto Interstate 275 from 54 Av N (the ramp that takes traffic from eastbound 54 Av N to southbound Interstate 275). Have all traffic entering Interstate 275 southbound from 54 Av N use the first entrance ramp (that’s the circular entrance ramp that now takes traffic from westbound 54 Av N onto southbound Interstate 275). This could help reduce another “Hail Mary Merge” movement as motorists would have more time to transition onto or off of southbound Interstate 275 right after going under the 54 Av N underpass.

Problem solved!

With FHP’s enforcement of traffic laws on the southbound stretch of Interstate 275 between 54 Av N and 38 Av N here’s a tip on what to do if in the event you either miss your exit or end up exiting at an exit you did not intend to use:

If you miss your exit:

Go on to the next exit. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU GO INTO THE EMERGENCY LANE AND BACK UP YOUR VEHICLE! You may not cross the paved gap that separates the beginning of the ramp from the mainline; doing so can result in a traffic stop from FHP which can result in a ticket being issued. Same thing goes for backing up under any circumstances!

If you are caught in an Exit Only lane or exit onto a road that you did not intend to use:

Do not attempt to make a correction at the last minute. THIS CAN RESULT IN AN ACCIDENT! Instead, follow the ramp to the intersection; you should be able to go straight across the road when you have the green light depending on how the intersection is set up. If by any chance you cannot go straight through to reenter Interstate 275 you can turn left to reverse direction, go back to the previous exit and turn around again.

If you have exited onto another interstate highway such as Interstates 375 and 175 in St. Petersburg or Interstate 4 in Tampa, go to the first exit. There you can legally turn around and return to Interstate 275 in the direction you were going.

Again, do not cross the paved gap that separates the beginning of the ramp from the mainline. If an FHP trooper sees you doing this you can be liable for a traffic stop which can result in a ticket for a moving violation. The fines are steep – it can be as much as your car loan payment! (Try explaining this to your credit union when you have to skip a car loan payment due to a hefty traffic ticket; skip too many payments and your car is repossessed which is much easier to do than a mortgage foreclosure!)

As I wrote in a comment to the Bay News 9 article, what is wrong with leaving earlier so that you can arrive at your destination on time? If we did that then there would be no need to be in a hurry to get to work on time. Unfortunately, our Tampa Bay area mass transit system is so inept that reliance on a car to commute to and from work is mandatory; for that reason this is why companies looking to relocate in Florida do not want to relocate to the Tampa Bay metropolitan area due to extremely reduced commuting to work choices other than carpooling. I can go on forever regarding the lack of reliable mass transit in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, but I’ll save it for another topic.

With the new exit ramp at FL 56 and the exit ramp rigmarole at 38 Av N (Exit 25), please feel free to share your commute stories here. Just one favor I would like to ask, and that is to keep the comments clean; when you post your comment it will not show up until I moderate it.

Over the River and Through the Woods…

If your Thanksgiving plans involve any road travel over the Thanksgiving weekend, here are a few tips you may want to take with you as you prepare to make your way safely to Grandma’s House (or anywhere else) for Thanksgiving dinner:

First, and foremost, make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top condition for the road. This is very essential, whether it’s just a local trip or a cross-Florida trip using Interstate 275 leaving the Tampa Bay area. This includes, among other things:

Checking your car’s fluids including the oil level and the windshield washer fluid.
Checking your vehicle’s spare tire to be sure it’s in good condition in case you need it.
Making sure that you have filled up your fuel tank.
Checking the tire pressure on your tires and making a quick check for any defects.
Making sure that all lights work, including the headlights.
If you have one of those vehicles that has an OnStar system, check to see if it works. (Press the black phone button and you should hear the response, “OnStar Ready”. If you hear that, you are good to go.)
Making sure that your SunPass is topped up, especially if toll roads are part of the trip.

OK. The car is loaded, and your family is on your way to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. Here are some more tips to get you to Grandma’s safely:

Plan out how you will get there. You can use Google Maps or your favorite map program out there on the Internet.
Get a good night’s rest – you will need it.
Stay within the speed limit – there’s nothing gained by going faster than the flow of traffic.
If you have a handheld cell phone, please don’t use it while driving. Instead, have your passenger handle the cell phone calls for you or, if you are driving alone, wait until you have stopped in a safe place.
Pay attention to the gigantic green signs mounted over the highway, especially when you are approaching a metropolitan area such as the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Pay special attention to the word “Left” in black letters on a yellow background above the exit number sign – this indicates a left exit and you should prepare in advance!
Once you exit Interstate 275 or any other limited access highway, adjust your speed accordingly to the speed limit for the road you have exited onto.
If you have a long road trip to Grandma’s, consider taking a break for every three to four hours of driving. Feel free to stop at a rest area, service plaza, an interstate interchange oasis such as Exit 329 from Interstate 75 (FL 44), or even go into a small town if it’s close by.
Most importantly, don’t drink and drive! Drunk driving: Over the limit = under arrest!
Move over for emergency vehicles!

Now if in the event you break down on your way to Grandma’s, help is just around the corner:

If your vehicle is equipped with OnStar, press the red emergency button and wait for the OnStar operator to answer.
If you have a handheld cell phone, make sure that you are stopped in a safe place and call *347. Also use *347 (that’s *FHP) to report drunk and/or aggressive drivers as well.
If you are on any section of Interstate 75 or on Interstate 275 south of Exit 5 (US 19 South) or north of Exit 53 (Bearss Avenue), you will see motorist aid call boxes. Simply pull the door down, press the button for service, release the door and return to your vehicle.

Most importantly, as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend takes place including the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, area highways including Interstate 275 will be crowded. Just make sure to plan ahead and leave early in order to arrive at your destination in a timely fashion.

As Thanksgiving is the gateway to the holiday season, have a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season! Be careful out there on Interstate 275 and drive safely!

New Mile Markers on Interstate 75 in Tampa Lately

If you have been out there on Interstate 75 northbound in Tampa you may have seen some funny looking mile markers out there. For many years we have seen the typical interstate highway mile marker as an elongated sign mounted on the right side of the highway with the word “Mile” on top and the mile marker digits lined up in vertical order read downward.

Now there is a new kind of mile marker out there which is mentioned in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, commonly called the MUTCD. The MUTCD, which is published by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is the Bible of all traffic signs, signals and pavement markings used by all 50 states, including the folks at the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as our cities’ and counties’ public works departments. Here is a description of the new mile marker signage you may have been seeing on Interstate 75 northbound in Tampa:

The new mile marker sign is elongated vertically, just like the old mile marker sign. The top of the sign contains the cardinal direction that you are headed, which makes it easy for you the motorist to find out which way you are going.

Next, a graphic of the highway shield is shown which reinforces the route you are on. No need to worry which highway you are traveling, especially when you are out in the country and the exits are further apart.

Below the highway shield is the word “Mile”, which is just like the old style mile marker sign.

Right under the word “Mile” is the mile marker number, which is read horizontally rather than vertically. If the mile marker contains a .5 number (such as 235.5) the .5 is shown right underneath the mile marker number.

Now here is a picture of what the new mile marker sign looks like:

The primary purpose of mile marker signage is to enable public safety services such as fire, police and EMS to locate you on an interstate highway in case you need their services. You can also use the mile marker signage to calculate the distance you have traveled from Point A to Point B. Interstate highways are not the only highways that have mile marker signage; if you have the occasion to travel US 1 in the Florida Keys you will notice that everything down there is based on the mile marker that goes back to the railroad days.

The standard for mile markers is to begin at the southernmost or westernmost terminus of a highway, usually at the beginning of a highway or at the state line boundary. As an example with Interstate 75 in Florida, it begins at its southernmost terminus (which is also its national southernmost terminus) at FL 826 in Miami. The mile markers increase as you go north on Interstate 75 throughout the entire state of Florida until you get past Mile Marker 472. There you have crossed the border into the state of Georgia and the mile marker resets at zero again.

So, there you have it as to an explanation of the funny looking new mile markers you may have seen on northbound Interstate 75 in Tampa. I think the new mile marker signage is easier to read and interpret as well as getting you on the right track.

Southbound Interstate 75 over US 301 (Exit 224) has reopened!

For those of you who make southbound Interstate 75 crossing US 301 and the Manatee River at Exit 224 a part of your routine, I just learned of some great news when I was checking out Bay News 9: The two southbound lanes of Interstate 75 have just reopened!

The third southbound lane of Interstate 75 is expected to open, hopefully over the weekend. As for the northbound lanes which have been doing double duty since the tanker accident, the Florida DOT will be converting the northbound lanes back to the original three lanes northbound. Hopefully the three northbound lanes of Interstate 75 should be opened by Monday, 23 June 2008.

Sometime when I get down that way I’ll take a ride on southbound Interstate 75 at Exit 224 to check out the repairs that were done. From what I understand the work was going to take six weeks to get done but the contractor managed to get it done in half the time; I am pretty sure the contractor is going to enjoy that expedited work bonus that the Florida DOT offered to the contractor if the work was done sooner allowing for the southbound Interstate 75 overpass to be open sooner.

UPDATE AS OF 23 JUNE 2008:

Here is a photo I took of the recently reconstructed bridge on Interstate 75 south at Exit 224. Notice the new concrete pavement compared to the rest of the bridge; this is as I am actually crossing US 301:

The ramp from US 301 to southbound Interstate 75 is still closed so that construction can get wrapped up; hopefully this ramp should be open soon. Until then, to access southbound Interstate 75 from US 301 simply head north on Interstate 75 to Exit 229, which is the exit for Parrish and located just north of Interstate 275’s southern terminus at Exit 228. Once at Exit 229 turn left, go under the overpass, and make another left; that will place you on Interstate 75 southbound and get you where you want to go. Simple as that.

Still, this area is a construction zone (at least until all the construction has wrapped up) and please be sure to adhere to any posted reduced speed limits as you pass through the area. You do not want to get a visit from the Florida Highway Patrol and end up receiving a double fine Florida Uniform Traffic Citation; instead save that money for something else. Kudos to the Florida DOT for getting this overpass repaired in a quick and efficient manner!

Update to the Interstate 75 at Exit 224 Detour

This past Saturday (7 June 2008) I happened to take a ride by the site of the tanker accident on Interstate 75 at US 301 (Exit 224). The photo below which I took shows the extent of the damage to Interstate 75’s southbound bridge as it crosses over US 301 and the progress in demolishing the damaged sections of overpass and the three column pier in the median of US 301:

The Florida DOT is working feverishly to get this overpass fixed and back into service as soon as possible. In a previous blog entry the Florida DOT will be constructing crossovers that will enable southbound Interstate 75 traffic to use the northbound lanes until the repairs are done. According to news reports I found out this morning (9 June 2008) that the crossovers have been opened, which will save through traffic from having to make the long detour through Bradenton.

Until the Interstate 75 southbound overpass is repaired expect lots of delays as you pass through the construction zone as well as plenty of barricades, construction workers and increased Florida Highway Patrol presence. In the meantime, please let me offer some safety tips for passing through this work zone, as well as any other construction work zone elsewhere including Interstate 275:

1. Observe the posted reduced speed limits! The Florida Highway Patrol is enforcing the reduced speed limits and any speeding through the work zone can result in a traffic citation carrying a double fine, which can be much more than your auto loan payment. After all, this is a work zone on Interstate 75 and not Open Wheel Modified at DeSoto Super Speedway!

2. Give driving your 100 percent attention through the work zone. That much needed cell phone call can wait until you arrive at your destination.

3. Plan ahead and leave earlier than usual to reach your intended destination in plenty of time.

4. Don’t tailgate other motorists while going through the work zone. After all, the lanes are narrower than what you are used to and you need to leave extra room in front of you in case of the unexpected.

Another note I would like to pass on is for those who are entering Interstate 75 south from US 301 at Exit 224. That ramp is closed due to the overpass work. Instead, use Interstate 75 north to Exit 229, which is the Parrish exit located just north of Interstate 275’s southern terminus at Exit 228; once there you can turn around at the interchange and proceed south on Interstate 75.

I would like to give a hats off to the Florida DOT for getting these crossovers on Interstate 75 at Exit 224 constructed as quickly as practical, especially for the Monday morning commute. I know, we all had to endure the long detour through Bradenton for the past few days but the wait was worth it.

For those of you that have passed through this work zone on Interstate 75 I would like to hear from you!