Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Just in time for Christmas - Interstate 275, that is!

As you probably know already, we have had some changes in traffic patterns and a lane of Interstate 75 at Exit 301 has recently reopened.

First, Interstate 75 at Exit 301...

The right southbound lane as it crosses FL 50 and US 98 has recently reopened ahead of schedule. I have not been by there yet to check it out, but I got to give the Florida DOT credit for having this important interstate highway repaired in the shortest time possible.

Second, the Tampa International Airport interchange north of Interstate 275...

Several new ramps have opened in the area enabling traffic from the Veterans Expressway (FL Toll 589) as well as coming from the Courtney Campell Causeway (FL 60) to free flow more better into Tampa International Airport as well as Interstate 275.

One of the new ramps involves getting onto Spruce Street from FL 60 east. It used to be that you had to exit to the right before construction and most recently you had to exit to the left. That has changed and motorists can transition from eastbound FL 60 to Spruce Street using a new overpass, exiting to the right.

Another new ramp involves getting onto the George Bean Parkway into Tampa International Airport. Back in the old days when you came from the Veterans Expressway or Clearwater you got off and had to take the circular right turn ramp. Now you can transition from eastbound FL 60 to Tampa International Airport using a new overpass as well.

And did I say another new ramp? There's a new ramp that has opened that enables motorists to transition from westbound FL 60 or from Interstate 275 onto Spruce Street without having to detour through the airport. This is a replacement ramp for those of you that were used to exiting onto Cypress Street coming from St. Petersburg on northbound Interstate 275 at Exit 39B when that direct access ramp to Cypress Street had to be closed permanently to make way for more new ramps as part of the airport interchange project.

Getting to Cypress Street is simple from St. Petersburg on northbound Interstate 275: After taking Exit 39B, follow the signs for Spruce Street and exit there. Once on Spruce Street, go to the first traffic signal which is O'Brien Street and take a right. Follow O'Brien Street for about half a mile and that will place you onto Cypress Street. Isn't that easy?

And more ramps in the Tampa International Airport area are on the horizon, including a ramp that will deliver you straight onto southbound Interstate 275 from the airport if you are headed for St. Petersburg. Talk about red carpet service!

In closing, I would like to say Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year 2009!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Southbound Interstate 75 at Exit 301 Alert!

As you probably know by now, a serious accident has occurred today (Tuesday, 9 December 2008) on Interstate 75 at Exit 301, which is also known as FL 50 and US 98 near Brooksville. A dump truck traveling eastbound on FL 50 hit a few of the concrete girders that carry southbound Interstate 75 over FL 50 causing severe damage. The damage is almost similar to an accident that happened in June 2008 over at Interstate 75’s Exit 224, US 301, but on a smaller scale.

According to a
Bay News 9 article and the pictures it appears that the girders carrying the right southbound lane will need replacement. Moreover, traffic on FL 50is reduced to two-way traffic as crews begin the process of cleaning up the damage and eventually replacement of the damaged concrete beams. The overpasses were constructed around 1964 when one of the many segments of the original Interstate 75 was opened in north and central Florida.

Until the concrete beams are replaced, it is going to mean lane closures and major inconveniences both for southbound Interstate 75 and FL 50 in both directions. Depending on the extent of the damage, the repairs may result from replacement of the damaged beams in question to replacement of the segment of overpass; that is up to the Florida DOT.

Northbound Interstate 75 crossing FL 50. This 2006 photo illustrates what the overpass looks like.

As with any construction or repair project, this is going to mean inconveniences such as barricades, long waits in traffic and heavy Florida Highway Patrol and Hernando County Sheriff’s Office presence. Here is what to expect if your travels take you in the vicinity of Interstate 75 at Exit 301 in the next few weeks as crews work feverishly to get the overpass repaired:


All exit and entrance ramps are open; however, expect delays especially if you are entering or exiting on Interstate 75 southbound.

Northbound Interstate 75 is not affected. Be aware of reduced speeds that may be in place.

Southbound Interstate 75 is affected. The right lane of the overpass as it crosses FL 50 will be closed for some time as crews will have to take out the damaged beams and replace them with new beams to match the rest of the beams on the overpass, which was constructed around 1964. If you are headed on southbound Interstate 75 expect to move over to the left lane just before you get to Exit 301. Also be aware of reduced speeds that may be posted in the area.

Should the Florida DOT decide on complete replacement of the segment of southbound Interstate 75 overpass crossing the eastbound lanes of FL 50 it will mean temporary reconfiguration of Interstate 75 similar to that over at Exit 224 earlier this year.

FL 50/US 98:

Both directions of FL 50 are open. However, traffic will be narrowed to two lanes utilizing the westbound lanes of FL 50 as you go under Interstate 75.

Hopefully the repairs should take a few weeks to complete, depending on the extent of the damage to the overpass. If you make this section of Interstate 75 at Exit 301a part of your daily travels I would like to hear from you. Please drive safely when going through this area and be safe.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Interstate275Florida.com Website Transition is Done!

After one week without a web host, Interstate275Florida.com is back in business!

It's a long story, but in the end we have solved our technical issues and we are back online. You may notice that many of the features of Interstate275Florida.com are back with a few exceptions. For example, the Interstate 375 and Interstate 175 pages have still yet to be fine tuned, but I'll have them up shortly.

Now I need your help.

I have checked the website for functionality prior to publishing it to the server. However, if you come across anything (such as broken links) that I should be made aware of please feel free to contact me using the Feedback page on Interstate275Florida.com.

Hopefully you will like the new format I have given Interstate275Florida.com and I welcome your comments. Thanks for your patience as the transition was done. And by the way, more on the technical aspects of why Interstate275Florida.com was offline for a week later.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Interstate275Florida.com Website Transition is Underway!

This weekend I will begin the transition of Interstate275Florida.com over to a new server along with the updated content as I discussed in a previous blog entry.

During the transition anyone accessing the Interstate275Florida.com site will be redirected to a page over at my sister site EdwardRingwald.com informing that the Interstate275Florida.com site is under maintenance. However, there will be a link to the Interstate 275 Florida Blog, which will remain open during the transition process.

Hopefully the transition should go smoothly and I’ll have the Interstate275Florida.com website back up and running as soon as possible.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Interstate275Florida.com web site update

Many of you have written to me asking me when I am going to update the Interstate275Florida.com website given the fact that a lot of changes have taken place due to recent construction. Some of you may be asking yourself in the back of your mind, “when will this Interstate275Florida.com site get updated, there are old photos on there?” I would like to give you an update of what I have been doing in 2008 to date to keep Interstate275Florida.com updated.

Just like Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area is getting a major makeover in Tampa as well as the Tampa Airport Interchanges project, I have been giving the Interstate 275 Florida web site a major makeover incorporating the changes that have taken place. I have been converting each page of the Interstate 275 Florida site from a text link to picture format to a photo gallery format where you get to see a thumbnail on the page and if you want to see the full size picture, simply click on the thumbnail to view the picture.

I have recently adopted this format over at EdwardRingwald.com, the web site for all things Edward Ringwald (that’s me!). I started this format beginning with the Drawbridges of Pinellas County and it has received a great response.

Right now I am still working out the technical issues; the bulk of changing all the St. Petersburg and Tampa pages at Interstate275Florida.com is almost complete. After I get done making sure that everything will work I will then publish the site and the end result will be an Interstate275Florida.com that is updated with the latest changes. There will be new photos that I have taken in 2008 that will replace the older photos that are currently on the site.

Moreover, my schedule has gotten hectic at times that I have only been able to devote some quality time to my websites. When your full time day job gives you more and more responsibilities you have to plan accordingly, especially in today’s economic world.

All I ask is that you please bear with me as I get ready to publish the Interstate275Florida.com site in the new format. The trickiest part ahead will be publishing it to the web server and making sure that all the web site features and links work. After all, you wouldn’t publish a site that has bad formatting or links that don’t work, among other things.

So, keep checking back here often for updates as I get ready to transition Interstate275Florida.com to a newer (and better) format. In the end will be a better Interstate275Florida.com site that will have updated photos and text that you will really like.

And speaking of Interstate 275 in Tampa…

We got a ramp closure coming up that will affect traffic entering Interstate 275 northbound at Himes Avenue (Exit 41C). This is needed as traffic will eventually be shifted to the new northbound lanes and a connector has to be built. A new entrance ramp from Himes Avenue is part of the new northbound lanes being built. According to the folks at the Florida DOT the entrance ramp at Himes Avenue is scheduled to be closed on December 1st. Here is a link to the press release from the Florida DOT at their Tampa Bay Interstates website.

So, if you are coming out of the immediate area of Himes Avenue and Interstate 275 and you want to head north, you may want to consider using Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41) or Armenia/Howard Avenues (Exit 42) and entering northbound Interstate 275 from there. This is something you may want to take into account when you exit Raymond James Stadium on game days such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers games.

It will be inconvenient for a while, but in the end we will have an Interstate 275 that we Tampa/St. Petersburg area residents and visitors will be proud of.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Headed to the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field? Read this!

If you’re headed to Games 1 and/or 2 of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field, congratulations! By so doing, you are a part of history in the making as the Tampa Bay Rays go to the World Series for the first time.

Now for those of you coming from Tampa or Bradenton/Sarasota using Interstate 275, you need to pay attention to this blog entry. We’ll show you how to navigate Interstate 275 all the way to Downtown St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. Also, for those of you lucky St. Petersburg residents who got tickets to either or both World Series games, we’ll show you how to navigate Interstate 275 to the Trop.

Coming from Tampa:

Use Interstate 275 south (crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge) to Exits 23A (Interstate 375) or Exit 22 (Interstate 175). Make sure you remain in the left lane for either exit, as these exits from Interstate 275 are left hand exits.

If you use Exit 23A: Take the first exit from Interstate 375, which will be Martin Luther King Street North. Turn right onto Martin Luther King Street North and remain in the right lane as you will go south about six blocks. Turn right at 3rd Avenue South and that will take you into the Tropicana Field parking lot.

If you use Exit 22: Recommended exit is the second exit on Interstate 175, 6th Street South, as the first exit – Martin Luther King Street South/8th Street South – will be congested. Once you get off on 6th Street South, turn left and go north on 6th Street South for two blocks. Then you will want to turn left onto 3rd Avenue South and proceed west; this will take you into the Tropicana Field parking lot.

Coming from Bradenton/Sarasota:

Use Interstate 275 north (crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, $1.00 toll) to Exit 22, Interstate 175. Be sure to be in the right lane.

Recommended exit is the second exit on Interstate 175, 6th Street South, as the first exit – Martin Luther King Street South/8th Street South – will be congested. Once you get off on 6th Street South, turn left and go north on 6th Street South for two blocks. Then you will want to turn left onto 3rd Avenue South and proceed west; this will take you into the Tropicana Field parking lot.

No matter what direction you come from, always read and follow variable message signs posted on Interstate 275 as you get closer to Tropicana Field. These signs will advise you on parking availability at Tropicana Field as well as Downtown St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg area residents headed to Games 1 and/or 2:

Follow the directions given above if you are headed to Tropicana Field on Interstate 275. Alternatively, you can follow 4th Street North, Martin Luther King Street North or 16th Street North as these streets will lead you into Downtown St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. Besides, these three streets are a great alternative to Interstate 275 if in the event it becomes congested.

Parking at Tropicana Field:

The advice from the City of St. Petersburg: Get there early.

Here’s more advice from the City of St. Petersburg which you should know about before setting out to Tropicana Field to see the World Series which I would like to share with you:

Get there early: Enjoy restaurants and other entertainment opportunities downtown before the games. For the ALCS series, fans were observed arriving early; and this strategy will need to continue. Fans arriving several hours before the first pitch (8 p.m) will find parking available in on-site parking lots (approx. 7,000 spaces). Fans arriving an hour or two early will find parking available in surface lots within a half mile walk of the field (approx. 4,000 additional spaces). Many supplementary lots have opened for the playoffs, including the City’s water resources lot on 16th Street near 2nd Avenue North. Fans arriving after surrounding parking is full will need to park closer to the downtown waterfront and either walk or take the free baseball shuttle. If all on-site parking lots are full, police and variable message boards will indicate that fans need to utilize overflow parking.

Take the free shuttle to Tropicana Field: Avoid the traffic and higher parking costs around Tropicana Field. City officials have added extra vehicles and service time to the shuttle system in order to accommodate more fans. On both days, the shuttle will begin service at 5:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. games. Shuttle service ends 90 minutes after the end of each game. The free baseball shuttle picks up fans at the corner of Central Ave. and Second St. S. (under the Bank of America Tower’s pedestrian bridge) and drops off passengers on First Ave. S. near 16th St. The city-owned South Core garage, accessible on First Ave. S. just east of Second St., is the designated shuttle parking facility and costs $5. Other parking is available in the immediate downtown area. A dedicated van will be available for guests with special needs. Additional information including a route map can be found at www.loopertrolley.com/Events and additional baseball parking information is available at www.stpete.org/baseballparking.

Park downtown by the waterfront: For the Rays game, drivers should utilize the South Core garage as described above. The best route to the South Core garage from I-275 is the I-175 exit and drivers should stay in the left lanes to bypass the baseball traffic getting off at 8th Street and 6th Street. Drivers will then take a left on 3rd Street and a right on 1st Avenue South to arrive at the South Core garage. Parking downtown will generally be less expensive than parking around Tropicana Field.

Utilize alternate routes to the game: Drivers familiar with local roads may wish to avoid the interstate system in favor of surface level roads. Fourth Street from the north is a good route to both downtown parking and Tropicana Field parking. From the South, fans can utilize 16th Street and 5th Avenue South. Fans utilizing the interstate from the North may wish to exit early and utilize 54th, 38th or 22nd Avenue North and go east to 4th Street. Fans coming from the South on the interstate can exit early on 31st Street to 5th Avenue South.

Utilize alternate routes after the game: Alternate routes are also advisable after leaving the game. Points of congestion to avoid include 8th, MLK and 20th Streets between 5th Avenue South and 5th Avenue North as well as 5th Avenue North, from 8th Street to 22nd Street. Alternate routes to the interstate are advisable including 4th Street North to 38th or 54th Avenue North for north-bound traffic and 4th Street south to I-175, then I-275 or 31st Street South to I-275 for south-bound traffic. Drivers on 1st Avenue North may wish to go west to 34th Street and then go north or south rather than utilizing the primary routes of MLK, 8th and 20th streets. These alternate routes and points of congestion should also be noted by other drivers who may not have gone to the game but are on the road during peak ingress and egress periods.

Beware of where you park: Do not violate parking regulations; parking enforcement will be issuing citations for illegal parking. Also be careful when parking in overflow lots surrounding Tropicana Field. There have been reports of persons illegally selling parking on property they do not own or control. Do not park in a lot if you are not sure that it is legitimate. Parking attendants should be in uniform and should provide a receipt/ticket when you pay. If the lot or the attendant/cashier does not look legitimate, park somewhere else.

To sum up, here’s a schedule for the 2008 World Series played at Tropicana Field:

Game 1 is Wednesday, 22 October 2008 at 8 PM.
Game 2 is Thursday, 23 October 2008 at 8 PM.
Game 6 is Wednesday, 29 October 2008 at 8 PM.
Game 7 is Thursday, 30 October 2008 at 8 PM.

Games 3, 4 and 5 are being played in Philadelphia; Games 6 and 7 will be played if necessary.

I got a related blog entry on the Tampa Bay Rays' 2008 championship season, which you can read by clicking here. It's worth a look!

LET’S GO RAYS! LET’S TAKE HOME THE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP! Interstate275Florida.com and EdwardRingwald.com are proud of the Tampa Bay Rays' 2008 achievement!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Florida's Move Over Law

From time to time I like to throw in important safety messages for motorists, not only on Interstate 275 but everywhere else throughout the Tampa Bay area and the entire State of Florida. I just recently returned from a Labor Day weekend trip to the Ft. Lauderdale area and I found some signage on Interstate 75 which is very interesting.

This is about Florida’s “Move Over” law, and it is codified in the Florida Statutes at Section 316.126. Basically, what the Move Over law is that if you are approaching an emergency vehicle parked on the side of the highway with its emergency lights activated, you are required to move over to the next lane or reduce your speed by 20 mph. After all, this is a law that is there for your safety and protection.

So, what is an authorized emergency vehicle?

An emergency vehicle is any law enforcement vehicle (such as the Florida Highway Patrol, county sheriff or city police), fire/EMS vehicle, ambulance, or even a wrecker vehicle such as the Road Rangers we see on Interstate 275. You have seen them every day when you travel on Interstate 275 or any other highway in the Tampa Bay area. These emergency vehicles are the guardians of safety on the highway, whether it may be Interstate 275 or elsewhere.

I am driving in the right lane on Interstate 275; I see a Florida Highway Patrol cruiser parked to the side with its emergency lights activated. What do I do?

Florida law requires you – the driver – to vacate the lane you are in by moving over into the next available lane. However, there will be times that you cannot get over into the next available lane such as heavy traffic. In that case you must reduce your speed by at least 20 mph.

In a situation where the speed limit is 20 mph or less (such as an on or off ramp on Interstate 275, the short one way roads that connect the highway with the local streets), you must reduce your speed to 5 mph when you see emergency vehicles on the shoulder of the ramp.

In any event, you must follow the directions of a law enforcement officer, especially when you approach an accident scene, at all times. So, please give these hard working guardians of public safety your attention and please make room for them so that they can do their important work: Keeping you safe.

Moreover, I believe the Florida DOT should erect signage like the one shown above reminding us Floridians and visitors to our state about this very important law, not only in the Ft. Lauderdale area but in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and statewide as well. So, let's be safe out there!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

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.

Friday, June 20, 2008

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.


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!

Monday, June 9, 2008

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!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Interstate 75 at US 301 (Exit 224) Alert

If you are one of the many motorists that make Interstate 75 crossing US 301 (Exit 224) and the Manatee River a part of your day, then this blog entry is just for you! By now you have heard on the major Tampa Bay area media outlets (including Bay News 9) that a serious accident has taken place on Interstate 75 southbound as it crosses US 301 on the afternoon of Wednesday, 4 June 2008.

This accident is similar to what happened on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg back in March 2007 when a tanker flipped over on the flyover from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 eastbound (Exit 23). According to news reports, a truck swerved to avoid a motorist which resulted in a chain of events that sent the truck over the left hand rail of Interstate 75 as it crosses US 301; the truck from what I understand fell onto US 301 and caught fire which resulted in serious damage to Interstate 75’s southbound bridge crossing US 301. The truck driver from what I understand was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

Constructed in 1979 and opened to traffic in 1981, this section of Interstate 75 is one of the many sections opened when Interstate 75 was extended from Tampa to Miami by way of the southern west coast of Florida and Alligator Alley to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. In fact, this particular section from US 301 (Exit 224) in Ellenton to River Road (Exit 191) south of Venice was one of the first sections to open in 1981.

From what I understand the decision was made by the Florida DOT to replace the damaged beams and piers on the southbound bridge carrying Interstate 75 over US 301. This is going to mean inconveniences for many of you until this overpass is rebuilt. I know, this is going to mean barricades, long grueling waits in traffic and heavy Florida Highway Patrol presence.

The Florida DOT is planning on temporarily converting the northbound Interstate 75 overpass to carry two way traffic while the southbound Interstate 75 overpass is being reconstructed where it goes over US 301. From what I understand this temporary setup should be in place by Monday, 9 June 2008.

Now for a recommended detour around all of this mess.

The following affects Interstate 75 southbound if you are headed to Bradenton, Sarasota or points south. I want to emphasize that Interstate 75 northbound is not affected, but traffic will be heavy.

If you are headed south on Interstate 275 from St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge:

After crossing the Sunshine Skyway bridge on southbound Interstate 275, take the US 19 south exit which will be Exit 5. Follow US 19 south to US 41 south; continue on US 41 south across the Hernando DeSoto Bridge (which crosses the Manatee River) into Bradenton.

At the second traffic signal will be eastbound FL 64 which is marked with plenty of overhead signage. Take a left at FL 64 and follow it for about 8 or 9 miles; this will bring you back to Interstate 75 south.

If you are headed south on Interstate 75 from Tampa:

You will be directed off of Interstate 75 at Exit 224, which is US 301. Simply exit Interstate 75 at Exit 224 and follow US 301 south through the town of Ellenton to the junction of US 41. US 301 and US 41 multiplex here, so you want to follow US 41 south across the Hernando DeSoto Bridge (which crosses the Manatee River) into Bradenton.

At the second traffic signal will be eastbound FL 64 which is marked with plenty of overhead signage. Take a left at FL 64 and follow it for about 8 or 9 miles; this will bring you back to Interstate 75 south.

This detour will be in place at least until the northbound lanes of Interstate 75 crossing US 301 at Exit 224 are converted to handle temporary two-way traffic. Even after the temporary conversion is in place, you may want to keep this detour in mind as traffic will be heavy.

On a side note, for those headed to the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area from Tampa or St. Petersburg using Interstate 75, you may want to consider crossing the state from Tampa via FL 60 to the Florida Turnpike, then head southbound on the turnpike. Or, you may want to consider flying to Ft. Lauderdale; Southwest Airlines has several daily flights from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale and vice versa. Besides, with gas at the $4.00 a gallon mark I would consider flying to Ft. Lauderdale from Tampa any day.

The repairs to Interstate 75 southbound at US 301 (Exit 224) are expected to take several weeks to complete. If you are one of the many motorists who make Interstate 75 in the Bradenton/Sarasota area a part of your routine I want to hear from you!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

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.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Interstate 275 Widening in Tampa

Last week (17 February 2008) when the traffic pattern was shifted on Interstate 275 just past Exit 42 (Armenia and Howard Avenues) traffic got so bad that backups clear across the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg beginning just after Exit 32 (4 St N/FL 687) are becoming the rule rather than the exception. Were you among one of the many commuters stuck on Interstate 275 and, somehow, you were late for work or that important meeting in Tampa? Or, did you miss your flight from Tampa International Airport?

Some of you tried to get around this by using the Gandy Bridge (US 92) as an alternative. No can do, due to construction and backups on the eastbound span of the Gandy Bridge. (That's right, there is work going on at Gandy Blvd. in Tampa!)

There is indeed a widening project going on at Interstate 275 in Tampa. That’s right, we need it to help alleviate congestion. The first segment from just west of Ashley Drive/Tampa Street/Scott Street (Exit 44) westward to Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) is just the icing of the cake – it’s part of a bigger project to give Interstate 275 in Tampa a major overhaul.

On Monday, 25 February 2008 I came across one of Bay News 9’s “I-Polls” where you can vote and leave a comment. The topic was about how the construction on Interstate 275 in Tampa will bring needed relief. Well, I got some bad news for you: Even with the improvements made there will not be any congestion relief for Interstate 275.


First, here is a comment I left at Bay News 9:

The widening of Interstate 275 in Tampa will bring some relief but not the relief hoped for. It is going to take a twenty lane Interstate 275 at least to solve our traffic woes. But what we desperately need here in the Tampa Bay area is rail based mass transit and it is needed now - not five years, not ten years, not twenty years! No matter why corporations won't come to the Tampa Bay region and fewer people move here all because of lack of a workable mass transit system and increasingly unaffordable housing.

If you want to live close to work (and your place of work is in a downtown area like Tampa or St. Petersburg), forget it. Unaffordable housing in the Tampa Bay area is making people take commutes of an hour or more from outlying areas such as Pasco or Hernando Counties. Not only you are throwing money down the drain in commuting costs (when will we see gasoline top $4.00 a gallon? Count on it!), you are paying high insurance due to your long commute to and from work!

So you can’t find a place close to work that is affordable for you. You explore alternatives like our present day mass transit system provided courtesy of HART and PSTA. Unfortunately, your work schedule conflicts with the bus schedules, so a car is a must.

The result: A highly clogged Interstate 275 and you are stuck in traffic going nowhere.

Now for the real solution to the clogged Interstate 275 mess, even after it’s all said and done: Rail based mass transit. Baltimore has it. Washington, DC has it. Los Angeles has it. Ft. Lauderdale and Miami have it. And Orlando is going to be getting it soon. But the Tampa Bay area lacks a great rail based mass transit system.

Why rail? Buses are great but they are subject to the same traffic gridlock you and I are used to when we drive. Rail based mass transit would provide an excellent alternative to sitting in traffic on Interstate 275 all day. Besides, you can sit back and enjoy the trip to the office rather than be stressed out.

Rail based mass transit is what the Tampa Bay area really needs, rather than a twenty lane Interstate 275. Besides, land for any expansion of Interstate 275 is at a premium and it gets very expensive.

And rail based mass transit can provide a much needed boost to the Tampa Bay area economy. Complement that with a properly widened Interstate 275 and there you go.

By the way, if all goes as planned this segment of Interstate 275 being reconstructed in Tampa is slated to be done in 2010, according to the folks at the Florida DOT. Now I want to hear from you your Interstate 275 in Tampa experiences!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Interstate 275 and the two feeders in St. Petersburg: To set the record straight

Recently I received an email through the Interstate275Florida.com feedback page from someone claiming to be a professional highway engineer. Why I say the word "claiming" is that sometimes there are people out there who say they are when in fact they are not.

Here is the text of the email I received (I edited it to clean up the language):

Hi, I'm a professional highway engineer. I don't know how you can get so excited about a ... joke of an interstate highway, which is what I-275 is, and pathetically it is the only freeway in Pinellas County! (I-175 and I-375 are simply glorified feeder ramps and do not deserve to have their own route number).

I am going to set the record straight as to why Interstate 275 was pushed through southern Pinellas County and the two feeder highways, Interstate 375 and Interstate 175.

First, when the interstate system was being constructed in the Tampa Bay area in the 1960's and 1970's Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg as we know it today was not going to be Interstate 275 in the first place. The highway was initially supposed to be a continuation of Interstate 4 which was planned to end around St. Pete Beach (and it was not intended to be routed over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to begin with, as it was a two-lane cantilever span back then). The only reminder of what it was yesterday can be found on a mileage sign as you drive northbound on Interstate 275 as you pass the 4 St N (Exit 32) exit: Tampa International Airport 7 miles, Tampa 11 miles and Lakeland 45 miles. Now we know that Lakeland is not on Interstate 275 - it's on Interstate 4.

Second, when the Florida DOT decided to push Interstate 75 through Tampa southward to Miami, Interstate 4 was truncated at what we Tampa Bay area residents know as "malfunction junction", which is Interstate 275's Exit 45B in Tampa. Interstate 75 was simply extended over the Howard Frankland Bridge into St. Petersburg.

Third, a Tampa bypass was in the works as Interstate 75 was being pushed through St. Petersburg and it was initially going to be Interstate 75E. But the organization responsible for the numbering of our nation's interstate highways, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (or AASHTO for short), put an end to the practice of letter-suffixing interstate highway numbers. So, the Florida DOT decided on routing Interstate 75 over the bypass route and renumbering Interstate 75 as it was being constructed through St. Petersburg as Interstate 275.

Fourth, what about our two feeder interstate highways in downtown St. Petersburg, Interstates 375 and 175? I believe these highways are not "glorified feeder ramps" as referred to in the email I received; instead these two short highways are spur routes of Interstate 275 that serve the downtown St. Petersburg area. Remember, as these interstate highways are spur routes (meaning they end with no interstate highway connection at the other end) the first digit in the three digit number will be odd. Back when Interstate 4 was planned the feeder routes were only shown on planning documents as Interstates 304 and 104.

By the way, a ramp is a short one- or two-lane low speed road that connects a street or highway to or from an interstate highway in a safe manner. Interstates 375 and 175 have their own exit and entrance ramps just like Interstate 275: Interstate 375 at Martin Luther King St N, 8 St N (entrance only), 4 Av N and 5 Av N just before 5 St N (eastern terminus) and Interstate 175 at Martin Luther King St S and 6 St S (westbound entrance and eastbound exit only) as well as 5 Av S (eastbound terminus exit only) and 4 St S (westbound entrance). But the mainline of both Interstates 375 and 175 are identical to the mainline of Interstate 275 for the two feeders' entire length.

And fifth, southern Pinellas was the only part of Pinellas County to have the totally controlled access freeway, which we know today as Interstate 275. Back in the 1960's and early to mid-1970's Clearwater and northern Pinellas County was not as developed as it is today. In other words, interstate highway service into Clearwater back then was not justified. But contrast this to the Clearwater and northern Pinellas County as we know today: That was a big mistake.

However, with the conversion of US 19 in Clearwater and northern Pinellas County to an interstate-like highway I would advocate a connection to Interstate 275, starting south on US 19 around Palm Harbor and routing it all the way to just north of Park/Gandy Blvd. (FL 694). Then have the new highway turn east and follow an upgraded version of Gandy Blvd. passing Interstate 275 (which would have a reconfigured interchange) to Tampa, connecting it at the Crosstown Expressway. Besides, an upgraded Gandy would be a beneficial hurricane evacuation route. We could call this highway Interstate 875 and I have an idea for a Gandy makeover and Interstate 875 here at Interstate275Florida.com simply by clicking here.

While we are on the subject of route numbers, posting a route number is not as easy as you think. For a route newly constructed or upgraded to interstate standards to get an interstate route number this is what has to be done. First, an application has to be submitted to AASHTO from the Florida DOT (or any other states' DOT for that matter) that details the justification and need. Second, AASHTO reviews the request and makes a decision: If the request is denied the application is sent back to the requestor; however, if the application is approved there is one more step. Third, an application approved by AASHTO to establish and/or change an interstate route number has to be sent to the Federal Highway Administration within the United States DOT for their review and concurrence. Now you see?

Let's backtrack for a moment on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and its role as an interstate highway. When the original cantilever spans were built in 1954 and 1971, these spans were not up to interstate standards. When the decision was made to push Interstate 75 southward to Miami the twin cantilever bridges of the Sunshine Skyway were proposed to be brought up to interstate standards. However, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge disaster on 9 May 1980 turned things around a bit: For a while the Sunshine Skyway was being considered as not being part of Interstate 275. In 1981 Interstate 275's future insofar as the Sunshine Skyway was concerned had a bright outlook as a new cable stayed bridge as we know it today would replace the two incompatible cantilever spans.

Hopefully I should set the record straight as to why Interstate 275 was pushed through St. Petersburg and southern Pinellas County and the reasoning behind the two feeder interstates in downtown St. Petersburg, Interstates 375 and 175. As always, I welcome your comments!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Interstate 4 Has Reopened!

Great news! Interstate 4 has reopened for business late this afternoon (Thursday, 1/10/08)!

Tampa and Orlando are once again united thanks to a six lane highway where you can go from one place to another without encountering a traffic light. For those communities on US 92 east of Lakeland in Polk County, the temporary home of Interstate 4 the past couple of days, it is relief from the horrendous traffic jams for the many residents that make US 92 a part of their daily routine.

In a previous post several months ago I have discussed the summer thundershowers that can slow your travels on Interstate 275 and are well worth repeating, not only for the rain but for fog as well:

1. Most importantly, reduce your speed when you approach the fog and the trail of brake lights. 65 or 70 mph does not mean 65 or 70 mph all the time - you are supposed to drive in a reasonable and prudent manner when you approach an area of reduced visibility not only with fog but with smoke and rain as well.

2. Ease up on your accelerator and don't attempt to stop suddenly - the low visibility created by the fog is a recipe for an accident. If you have to use your brakes, tap on them lightly but slowly.

3. Give driving your 100% attention especially during the low visibility of the fog - the cell phone call can wait until you are in a safe place.

4. The only time you want to use your 4-way flashers is if you are pulled over in an emergency situation. 4-way flashers are not meant to be used while your vehicle is in motion; in fog (especially heavy fog) someone can run into you thinking that you are stopped. Speaking of emergency situations if your vehicle breaks down for any reason please by all means pull over to the nearest shoulder so that you are not obstructing traffic in any way.

5. Turn on your headlights, even if you have daytime running lamps. The daytime running lamps do not turn on your vehicle's rear tail lights when you need it. Remember to turn them off when you reach your destination to avoid a dead battery. Besides, having headlights on during rain as well as fog or smoke is mandatory per Florida Statutes.

6. Allow extra time to get to your destination, especially if you have to be somewhere at a given time. Leave early if you can.

7. Make sure your wipers and tires are in excellent condition for the road. Also check your windshield washer reservoir periodically and replenish as needed. Heavy fog can cause condensation on your windshield and when this occurs you have to use your windshield washers on the road as well.

8. If you breakdown on Interstate 275 or any other highway in the Tampa Bay area (including Interstate 4), pull over in a safe place such as the nearest shoulder. You may call *FHP (*347) on your cell phone to request a road ranger be sent to your location.

9. Most importantly, if you encounter thick and heavy fog that you cannot see over the hood of your vehicle, pull off the highway and stop in a safe place and remain there until the fog has lifted. If you are on Interstates 275, 75 or 4 make sure that you exit the highway and stop in a safe place (after all, stopping on an interstate highway unless you have a dire emergency such as an accident or a breakdown is illegal).

Following these safety tips for driving in fog (as well as smoke and rain) ensures that you will arrive at your destination safely. As I mentioned in my previous post if you were impacted by the closure of Interstate 4 please by all means post a reply.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Interstate 4 Advisory

As you probably seen on the news today (1/9/08) there was an early morning horrific chain reaction accident on Interstate 4 in Polk County which is the result of low visibility due to fog and smoke from a controlled burn nearby which was reported as having got out of control. Traffic being detoured onto the principal detour route, US 92, is being reported as horrendous.

If your travel plans include a trip on Interstate 4 to Orlando and the major attractions or Tampa, prepare for a major traffic nightmare. But here at Interstate275Florida.com we'll help you get where you need to go. With that in mind here are some detours to help you get to where you need to go between Tampa and Orlando:

As I mentioned earlier the principal detour route around this mess is US 92. If you are coming from Tampa eastbound, exit Interstate 4 at the Polk Parkway (FL Toll 570) and continue east until you get to the exit for US 92 to Auburndale. You will want to head east towards Auburndale on US 92 and continue east until you get to US 27. Once there head north on US 27 and that will take you back to Interstate 4 eastbound. If you are coming from Orlando westbound, you will be diverted off of Interstate 4 at US 27; head south on US 27 until you get to US 92. Once at US 92 head west and you'll go through Auburndale and to the Polk Parkway (FL Toll 570). A westbound trip on the Polk Parkway will place you back onto Interstate 4 westbound towards Tampa.

Now there are two other detour routes in addition to US 92 that are worth your consideration: FL 60 and FL 50.

To use FL 60, from Tampa head east on FL 60 through Brandon and Bartow to Lake Wales and US 27. Once in Lake Wales head north on US 27 to Interstate 4 eastbound. From Orlando it's basically the reverse: You will be diverted at US 27; head south to Lake Wales and FL 60. Once there head west on FL 60 through Bartow and Brandon all the way to Interstate 75 and Tampa.

Now we'll cover FL 50 as this is the northern route. From Tampa use Interstate 275 north to Interstate 75 north, then continue to Exit 301, which will be FL 50 to Orlando and Brooksville. Once there head east on FL 50 and it will take you towards the Florida Turnpike and Orlando. Remember FL 50 is mostly two lanes inbetween Interstate 75 and the town of Groveland; speaking of Groveland remember to watch your speed going through this town as there is strict enforcement. From Orlando it's the reverse: Head west on FL 50 all the way to Interstate 75. Once there head south on Interstate 75 towards Tampa and St. Petersburg (via Interstate 275). By the way, FL 50 in Orlando is also known as Colonial Drive.

Hopefully this horrific accident scene on Interstate 4 should be cleared up soon and Interstate 4 will be reopened to traffic providing a crucial link between Tampa and Orlando. My thoughts go out to those affected by the chain reaction accident on Interstate 4. By the way, if you have traversed any of the detour routes due to the temporary closure of Interstate 4 please feel free to reply and let me know how long your trip from Tampa to Orlando or vice versa took.