Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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:  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!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Traffic Pattern on Southbound I-275 in Tampa

By now most of you are getting used to the new traffic pattern on southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa as you leave downtown Tampa.  This is part of a major project that has just got underway that will transform Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough River to the FL 60/Tampa Airport exit (Exit 39).  The new northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa that you have been driving on for quite some time now is a preview of what's to come; believe me, it will be a better improvement once it's all said and done.
First, let's start southbound on Interstate 275 coming out of downtown Tampa at the Armenia/Howard Avenue exit (Exit 42).  There used to be the long exit ramp that serviced both Armenia/Howard Avenues (Exit 42) as well as Himes Avenue (Exit 41C), but this long exit ramp - created from the former southbound lanes of Interstate 275 - is no more as the former southbound lanes is being demolished to make way for the new southbound lanes.
To exit southbound Interstate 275 at Exit 42, be in your left lane as the exit is now a left lane exit.  When you exit, you will encounter two traffic signals, one for Howard Avenue (northbound) and the other for Armenia Avenue (southbound).  Signage placed by the Florida DOT will assist you in getting where you need to go.
Going further south, to exit southbound Interstate 275 at Exit 41C (Himes Avenue) you will still continue to exit from the right lane as you did before.  However, you will remain on the Interstate 275 mainline until you reach the exit for Himes Avenue; the exit is clearly marked.
As always, please allow for extra time when you travel through the construction zones and obey all posted speed limits, as speeding fines are doubled in construction zones as well as school zones.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, as with any major Interstate 275 project, this is going to mean delays, road closures and detours as needed, but the end result will be a better, wider and safer Interstate 275 that we can use.