Reminder on Etiquette when approaching a Toll Plaza and Other Things

It’s the holiday season, and traffic is heavier than usual on the interstates and toll roads of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Unfortunately, I don’t like to say this but I have seen a lack of etiquette out there on the roads especially during the holiday season.

For instance, I took a side trip to Tarpon Springs recently when I was trying to turn left from southbound US 19 onto eastbound Keystone Road, which is undergoing a transformation from two lanes to four lanes from US 19 to East Lake Road (CR 611). Unfortunately, the protected left turn signal only let just a few cars through and the lane closures on Keystone Road was causing left turning traffic to block the northbound lanes of extremely busy US 19. As the left turn signal changed from green to red I had no choice but to stop and wait for the next signal to avoid being stranded out in the intersection as well as avoid a ticket for running a red light.

Unfortunately, a gentleman driving a SUV behind me did not like my careful operation of my vehicle in accordance with Chapter 316 of the Florida Statutes. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw him making threatening gestures at me, including yelling at me apparently telling me to break the law so that he can get to the CVS Pharmacy on the southeast corner of US 19 and Keystone Road. Luckily, the man in the SUV behind me did not do anything more serious as there was a Tarpon Springs Police officer on eastbound Keystone Road waiting to cross US 19.

I cannot understand why the man in the SUV behind me had to be in a hurry for. Was it because he had to pick up a prescription at the CVS Pharmacy in a hurry? (Hey, CVS Pharmacy has late hours). Was it also that the man in the SUV was in a hurry to get Christmas shopping done? These questions I won’t know the answer to.

OK. Getting back on topic here.

Let’s say you are at a toll plaza and you enter the SunPass only lane by mistake. Or, you enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and you do not have a SunPass. What do you do?

First and foremost, do NOT stop or turn around – not only it is illegal, it is dangerous! Simply drive through the SunPass lane – your license plate will be captured by way of a photo image and you will be sent a bill for the toll(s) owed. Instructions on how to pay for the missed toll(s) are on the bill that you would receive.

In fact, here’s the perfect stocking stuffer you can get – a SunPass transponder and account for your vehicle. With a SunPass, you can pay reduced toll rates for those with SunPass transponders than those paying with cash. Besides, more and more toll plazas are being converted from the traditional method of toll collection to all electronic toll collection. The SunPass web site has more details including where you can go to pick up your own SunPass transponder as well as how to set up your SunPass account.

Now here are some more road etiquette tips for you motorists out there:

That conversation or business deal on that cell phone or smartphone can wait until you arrive at your destination safely. Same thing goes for texting too.

If you have to be at a place at a certain time (such as getting to your flight at Tampa International Airport or getting to work on time), please leave early. That way, you can arrive at your destination with even a few more minutes to spare!

Take it easy in those crowded mall and shopping center parking lots. In fact, why don’t you drop off your party at the front entrance so that you can park the car and then you can join your party inside at a predetermined location after you are settled in. Besides, everyone will be happy campers.

Handicap parking spaces are only for those with a handicap parking placard and are handicapped. If you happen to have someone’s handicap parking placard and you are not handicapped, don’t abuse the privilege.

Don’t speed or tailgate your fellow motorists out there on our highways in an attempt to be somewhere on time. Not only it’s against the law and you can get an expensive traffic ticket, you are also throwing money away on gasoline too. Besides, the money you save by not speeding or tailgating you can use it on Christmas shopping!

And one more thing: PLEASE DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE! Especially when New Year’s Eve rolls around, it’s much better to stay overnight – whether it may be a friend’s house or a hotel room such as the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg (even if the rooms are pricey for New Year’s Eve) – than spend the New Year in the booking area of the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jails. Besides, it costs about $20,000 when you factor in fines, court costs, attorney’s fees, etc. for a DUI – and we’re talking first offense DUI here.

So, enjoy the holiday season and beyond in 2012.

NOTE: Comments are closed for this blog entry.

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.

Snow … in Florida?

While watching Bay News 9 and chief meteorologist Mike Clay giving the weather almanac for Wednesday, 19 January 2011 something rang a bell in my mind: On 19 January 1977 snow fell in Florida with snowflakes being seen as far south as Homestead.

That reminded me of an event that took place on Interstate 275 on that same date: The Howard Frankland Bridge was closed due to ice. Back in those days the Howard Frankland was just a single four-lane span and commuting between St. Petersburg and Tampa was a challenge. We only had three TV stations back then – WFLA Channel 8 (which has been the Tampa Bay area’s NBC affiliate since 1955), WTSP Channel 10 (which was an ABC affiliate, now a CBS affiliate) and WTVT Channel 13 (which was a CBS affiliate, now a Fox Owned and Operated station) – that we could get our news from but only certain times of the day, compared to today where you could flip on Bay News 9 (if you’re a Bright House Networks subscriber), get your weather and traffic, and be on your way.

However, Florida’s roads and bridges were not designed for travel during periods of icy weather unlike other states, where winter weather is the norm and roads have to be deiced. On a bridge, the hazard from ice is much greater as you are on a concrete deck and there is no room for error; this was the case with the original Howard Frankland Bridge as there were no emergency shoulders on the original bridge prior to its refurbishment as the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in 1992, a year after the new 1991 southbound lanes opened.

Back on that day in January 1977 when it snowed in Florida, the Florida Highway Patrol did not want to take any chances with motorists on a narrow, 4-lane bridge crossing Tampa Bay which was known for a lot of accidents. As such, the Howard Frankland was closed to traffic making commuting between St. Petersburg and Tampa very difficult.

Now I would like to find out where you were in the Tampa Bay area on 19 January 1977 when it snowed in Florida and you had to either find another way to St. Petersburg or Tampa crossing Tampa Bay or you had to stay home because the Howard Frankland Bridge was closed due to ice. I do remember the memories very well, and that weather almanac on Bay News 9 jogged my memory.

Elevate Gandy Yes, But Not Two Lanes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gandy Bridge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interstate 275 Southbound at Exit 26 (54 Av N) Alert!

If you are one of those motorists who use Interstate 275 southbound headed towards downtown St. Petersburg, south St. Petersburg or the Sunshine Skyway anytime soon during nighttime hours this blog entry is for you!

Beginning Monday evening, 24 March 2008 and continuing through Wednesday evening, 2 April 2008, workers will be repairing a steel beam which carries 54 Av N over Interstate 275. This is going to necessitate a closure of Interstate 275’s southbound lanes at 54 Av N (Exit 26) and a detour, which can result in traffic backups and delays. The detour will be accomplished by having you exit at Exit 26 southbound just like if you were going to exit at 54 Av N. However, once you reach the traffic signal you will be directed into the far right lane once you make the turn onto 54 Av N and that will place you onto the entrance ramp for Interstate 275 southbound (this is the ramp that services eastbound 54 Av N traffic). Once you are back on Interstate 275 southbound you will be on your way!

When the detours are in effect, expect Florida Highway Patrol or other law enforcement agencies to be on hand to direct you through the interchange. As traffic backups may ensue due to the detour, please give your driving your 100% attention through the detour zone and that all important cell phone call can wait until you are in a safe place.

On the other hand, northbound Interstate 275 at 54 Av N will not be affected by the detour. However, traffic backups may ensue and using extreme caution while transiting Interstate 275 through the 54 Av N interchange (Exit 26) is highly encouraged. Moreover, if you are entering Interstate 275 southbound from 54 Av N westbound during the detour the ramp from westbound 54 Av N onto southbound Interstate 275 will be closed – instead, use 38 Av N (Exit 25) to enter Interstate 275 southbound.

The work on the steel bridge beam is needed due to a dump truck incident which happened earlier when Interstate 275 from the 62 Av N overpass to Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28) was being refurbished. From what I understand the dump truck was partially raised hitting the beam and the advance signage for 38 Av N which is mounted on the 54 Av N overpass. Speaking of the recent improvements to Interstate 275 just north of 54 Av N, the concrete pavement has been given a complete makeover and signage has been replaced. If you are one of those people who make this section of Interstate 275 part of your daily routine, you probably noticed the improvements; on the other hand, if you haven’t been on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg lately you owe it to yourself to take a little excursion to St. Petersburg on Interstate 275 and check it out.

By the way, you can see what Interstate 275 at Exit 26 (54 Av N) looks like from the comfort and convenience of your own computer simply by clicking on this link to go to that page at the St. Petersburg section of Interstate275Florida.com. While you’re there, feel free to explore the rest of the exits in St. Petersburg or explore my other sections, such as Interstate 275 in Tampa, Interstate 75, Interstate 4 or our two major bridges, the Howard Frankland and the Sunshine Skyway.

So, please drive with caution when the detour on Interstate 275 at 54 Av N is in effect, as well as all the other construction zones on Interstate 275 including the exit to Tampa International Airport at Exit 39.