Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 Travel Tips

Over the river and thru the woods, to Grandmother's house we go...

It's that time of year again, and no matter where you're going for Thanksgiving Day we at and the Interstate 275 Florida Blog wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!  Hopefully you managed to make it through the delays due to the severe weather going on in the eastern half of the United States.  Luckily, here in Florida we don't have to contend with the snow but the high wind warnings on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge were back as high winds persisted through the Tampa Bay region.

For those of you out there that haven't set out yet, 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.  Especially with the recent severe weather gripping the nation's eastern half, 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.
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 nor you will get to Grandma's quicker 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.

Please be mindful of the construction taking place on Interstate 275 in Tampa between the FL 60/Tampa Airport (Exit 39) and downtown Tampa (Exit 44) exits.  There has been a recent traffic pattern change for northbound motorists right after you cross Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41).
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!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Raise the speed limit to 75 mph? Why Not!

Let's face it.  The speed limit on Interstate 275 is 65 mph in Pinellas County and 55 mph in Hillsborough County, save for a small stretch of Interstate 275 at Interstate 4 (Exit 45B) where it drops to 50 mph due to the sharp curves despite the improvements made.  There are two locations where Interstate 275's speed limit is 70 mph:  From US 19 south (Exit 5) to Interstate 275's southern terminus at Interstate 75 in Manatee County and from the Livingston Road underpass a couple of miles north of Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to Interstate 275's northern terminus at Interstate 75 at the Hillsborough-Pasco County line.
South of the Livingston Road underpass the speed limit on Interstate 275 drops to 65 mph, then to 60 mph, and by the time you get to Busch Boulevard (FL 580, Exit 50) the speed limit drops to 55 mph.
Too slow?  Remember back to the days when both Interstate 275 and Interstate 75 had the 55 mph speed limit, put there by federal mandate.  Today the states, including Florida, can decide what speed limit to put up on their interstate highways.
But things might change, if Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg gets his way, according to this Bay News 9 article.
From reading the article, it would mean that highways signed for 70 mph would increase to 75 mph.  Highways signed for 60 mph and 65 mph would see increases of 5 mph to 65 and 70 mph respectively.
I agree many more:  65 or 70 mph is still slow by today's standards.  But the bill being proposed by Senator Brandes I feel needs one more tweak:  Raise the speed limit on Alligator Alley - the tolled section of Interstate 75 between Naples and Ft. Lauderdale, currently at 70 mph - to 85 mph.  Besides, Alligator Alley is four lanes of practically endless Everglades with one exception at Snake Road (Exit 49) where a gas station and convenience store are located.  Besides, Alligator Alley would be the only place in Florida with an 85 mph speed limit.
Want proof that there is a section of highway in the US of A signed at 85 mph?  There is indeed one place:  A toll road in Texas between San Antonio and Austin, Texas State Highway 130 on the segment between Mustang Ridge and Seguin.
I think the speed limit on Florida's interstate highways including Interstate 275 should be raised somehow.  And it's overdue.
But wait until the law gets passed and the Florida DOT changes the signs, of course.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Exit 59 Headache

Here's an article I found at Bay News 9 by their Real Time Traffic Expert Chuck Henson on the problems encountered at Exit 59, which is the exit to FL 56 and Interstate 275's northern end together with Interstate 75.  Why all the mess?
Good question, if you may ask.
As you probably know, Interstate 275 from Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to the northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56 (Exit 59) has been widened from four lanes to six lanes.  In general, Interstate 275 is six lanes almost throughout its entire 59 mile route through St. Petersburg and Tampa, save for some minor four lane sections along the route.
For the commuter returning home to Wesley Chapel from downtown Tampa having six lanes on Interstate 275 is ideal.  Unfortunately, just before you reach Exit 59 the three lanes northbound quickly dissolve into two lanes thanks to a right lane ends warning sign.  Just after the right lane merges into the center lane then the exit for FL 56 (Exit 59), with the two through lanes funneling traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  According to the Bay News 9 article, traffic on northbound Interstate 275 approaching Exit 59 experiences delays, especially during peak commute times, thanks to the lane drop before the exit.
Why couldn't the Florida DOT complete the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 and let the right lane drop at Exit 59 as an exit only lane?  According to the Bay News 9 article, Kris Carson of the Florida DOT mentions that the remainder of the northbound three lanes of Interstate 275 from where it ends now to the FL 56 exit is the small part of the larger widening project.  It should have been completed as part of the project already, and it's practically easy enough.
While we're on the subject of Interstate 275's northern terminus at Interstate 75 and FL 56, I believe more should have been done:
1.  Add a ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75 providing direct access rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
2.  Add a flyover ramp from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275, again providing a direct access flyover rather than having to turn around at FL 56.
3.  Make the County Line Road overpass a full overpass bridge crossing both Interstate 75 and 275 mainlines.  When the County Line Road overpass was built in the 1980's as part of the Interstate 75 southward expansion project it was rebuilt into two overpasses, one crossing the Interstate 75 mainline and southbound Interstate 275 ramp and the smaller overpass crossing the northbound Interstate 275 ramp feeding traffic onto northbound Interstate 75.  Having a full overpass bridge would allow for future expansion, not to mention a potential interchange.
Adding the additional ramps to Interstate 275's northern terminus at Interstate 75 would make the interchange a full fledged interchange at Interstate 75's Exit 274, similar to Interstate 275's southern terminus in Manatee County at Interstate 75's Exit 228.  Moreover, adding the additional ramps would make life easier for New Tampa residents with another commute choice to downtown Tampa using Interstate 275 as opposed to Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4.
Don't forget to complement the commute choices with rail based transit.  Sure we can widen and improve Interstate 275 but we can do only so much.  But adding the ramps at Interstate 275's northern terminus would provide free flow access rather than have motorists go through two traffic signals at FL 56 as part of the interchange.