Saturday, April 28, 2007

The New Tampa Connector to Interstate 275 South

Here is the typical morning commute route from the New Tampa community to downtown Tampa: Bruce B Downs Blvd to Interstate 75, then Interstate 75 south to Interstate 4, then Interstate 4 west into downtown Tampa. Fight the traffic backups prevalent especially on Interstates 75 and 4 in the morning. Oh, and don't forget, turn on the TV and check the current traffic report given by Russ Handler on Bay News 9 before you head out the door.

Right now the Florida DOT is constructing a flyover ramp from westbound Bruce B Downs to southbound Interstate 75 in order to help ease traffic flow as traffic backs up on Bruce B Downs waiting for the light to change so that traffic can enter Interstate 75 southbound. That might sound good for you New Tampa residents out there, but I think that's not enough.

Enter the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the purveyor of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and its reversible upper deck from Brandon to downtown Tampa. Ever since that one pier of the upper deck sank during construction a few years ago the expressway authority has been embroiled into a lot of controversy over the years leading to calls for abolition of the expressway authority from a few Florida legislators among other things.

Now the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority has something on its planning books: A connector highway that would connect New Tampa with Interstate 275. This highway, dubbed the New Tampa Connector, would be a toll road which would be privately operated. That's right, privately operated with tolls that could be so expensive that no one could afford to pay to drive on that road. At least for 30 years, perhaps, according to an article in the Tampa Tribune on 26 February 2006.

In my opinion, the New Tampa Connector road is not needed. Why?

Before I go on further, for those people stumbling onto this blog that don't know where New Tampa is, it is a community situated northeast of Tampa on Bruce B Downs Blvd., which is the main street through this community. New Tampa was built by developers in the 1990's, spurred by the completion of Interstate 75 and the construction of an interchange at Bruce B Downs Blvd. in the late 1980's. Today New Tampa is a progressive community with apartments, condominiums, shopping centers, and schools. New Tampa is part of the City of Tampa by way of annexation (those of you that live in New Tampa remember at one point secession from the City of Tampa and forming Hillsborough County's fourth incorporated city called New Tampa ... well, that's another story).

North of Bruce B Downs Blvd. on Interstate 75 (Exit 270) is the northern terminus of Interstate 275, Exit 274. This is where the extension of Interstate 75 from the Hillsborough-Pasco County line to Miami took place in leaps and bounds with early segments around Ft. Myers in the late 1970's. The Alligator Alley connecting Naples with Ft. Lauderdale was reconstructed and absorbed into Interstate 75 around 1991, creating a continuous interstate highway from FL 826 in Miami to the Canadian Border in Sault St. Marie, Michigan.

Now what's so special about the Interstate 275 northern terminus? It's simple: The Interstate 275 northern terminus only features northbound entry onto and southbound exit from Interstate 75, while the southern terminus of Interstate 275 in Manatee County near Ellenton is a full access interchange.

Presently those who want to enter Interstate 275 southbound from Interstate 75 northbound cannot directly do so - instead, motorists must go to the next exit on Interstate 75 northbound, Exit 275/FL 56, and turn around there.

So, my suggestion would be for the Florida DOT to consider converting the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 from a partial access interchange to a full access interchange. Ramps cound be built with capacity for the commuter traffic that would use it in the morning and in the evening. The ramp from northbound Interstate 75 to southbound Interstate 275 would be constructed as a gradual loop with a right exit from Interstate 75 northbound, then over a flyover bridge to Interstate 275 southbound entering on the right hand side. On the other hand, the ramp from northbound Interstate 275 to southbound Interstate 75 would be a gradual right curve ramp with two lanes.

Then Interstate 75 would be widened from the current four lanes to six lanes from Interstate 275 to Bruce B Downs Blvd with the capability for expansion later on down the road. Especially on the Interstate 75 southbound lanes, the third right lane would be needed to avert traffic backups on the Interstate 75 southbound mainline headed towards Bruce B Downs Blvd.

And don't forget, we got County Line Road that crosses the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75. As this area grows later on we can add access to both Interstate 75 and southbound Interstate 275 from County Line Road.

Problem solved.

If the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 would be converted from partial to full access it would give New Tampa residents two better options to get to downtown Tampa in the morning: Either use the new flyover from westbound Bruce B Downs or head north on Interstate 75 for only four miles to the Interstate 275 northern terminus.

But in the long run, fixing and widening roads is not the cure-all: The Tampa Bay area needs a rail-based mass transit system in order to cope with the increasing demand. But that's a topic for another blog entry altogether.

So, money could be saved somehow by not constructing the New Tampa Connector and instead upgrading the northern terminus of Interstate 275 at Interstate 75 from a partial to a full access interchange. As for the land set aside for the New Tampa Connector, let's use the land for something else which would benefit the public interest. As for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, it needs to spend its money wisely elsewhere (such as identifying another expressway needs, either elsewhere in Hillsborough County or upgrading Gandy Blvd. from the Gandy Bridge to the current southern terminus of the Crosstown Expressway) and not on a toll road that will not be affordable for everyone to use.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The ramp to Interstate 375 is back!

After so many weeks, the ramp from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) is back!

While on my way to a Devil Rays game at Tropicana Field I read the electronic overhead sign just before 54 Av N (Exit 26) stating that the ramp onto Interstate 375 is still closed. Then, as I approach 22 Av N (Exit 24) I notice the construction workers changing the portable variable message sign letting motorists know that the ramp to Interstate 375 has reopened!

Interstate 375 is back!!!

So, I checked it out as it was on my way to The Trop. The contractor who did the emergency repair did an excellent job of restoring the ramp to a condition that is better than before. I got to admit it, I got to give credit to the Florida DOT for their efforts in getting a very important piece of Interstate 275 repaired and reopened to traffic in the shortest time possible.

After all, lots of motorists use the ramp from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 for plenty of reasons and it sees plenty of use in the mornings during the morning commute. For the past few weeks those commuters that have used Interstate 375 to get to where they need to go downtown were somewhat inconvenienced by having to take a detour out of the way by using Interstate 175, Interstate 375's partner immediately to the south.

From what I understand, I believe the Florida DOT may be upgrading signage in the area to reflect the fact that the exit ramp is 50 mph and the ramp is a left exit. If and when the signage upgrade takes place, motorists should be advised as far as 38 Av N (Exit 25) that a left exit is coming up giving some ample opportunity for motorists to change lanes if needed to avoid the exit ramp if desired. Presently there is very inadequate warning of the left exit and reduced speed other than a small posted Exit 50 mph sign mounted on the left side as you approach Interstate 375. The same signage upgrade should also be done for Interstate 375's partner in downtown St. Petersburg, Interstate 175 as it also features a left exit and inadequate speed reduction warning signage.

Moreover, as I mentioned in my previous post when Interstate 275 at Interstate 375 and 5 Av N was constructed in 1977, the ramp to both roads should have been done as a right exit like most of the other exits on Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. Had it been constructed this way perhaps tragedies such as the tanker truck collision on Interstate 375 may have been avoided.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Variable Message Signs on Interstate 275

If you have noticed while you are driving on Interstate 275 lately you may have seen one of those funny looking overhead signs that have been recently installed in St. Petersburg from Exit 26 (54 Av N) across the Howard Frankland Bridge to Exit 39 (FL 60/Kennedy Blvd/Tampa International Airport). These signs are variable message signs which look like the variable message signs already used in the Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale/Miami metro areas as well as the Florida's Turnpike.

How will these variable message signs benefit you, the Interstate 275 motorist?

Imagine getting on Interstate 275 north at Exit 28 (Gandy Blvd) and you are headed to Tampa via the Howard Frankland Bridge. You have already passed the last opportunity to exit Interstate 275 at Exit 30 (FL 686/Roosevelt Blvd) and you just passed under the 4 St N overpass at Exit 32. Suddenly - you see a traffic jam for miles on the Howard Frankland! You say to yourself that if you have known about it earlier you would have taken the Gandy Bridge into Tampa. Besides, you got to be somewhere in Tampa for a meeting.

Now with the variable message signs being installed important messages will be conveyed to motorists. For instance, in case of an accident or other breakdown on the Howard Frankland northbound causing a traffic tie up the variable message signs would advise you to use the Gandy Bridge into Tampa and give you an opportunity to exit Interstate 275 northbound at Exits 28 or 30 so that you can use the Gandy Bridge (and the Crosstown Expressway, especially if you are headed downtown) into Tampa. As you managed to get around the Howard Frankland bottleneck by being well informed and taking the Gandy Bridge into Tampa, you'll be there for that meeting instead of being stuck in traffic!

Already one of the variable message signs are in operation on southbound Interstate 275 before you get to Exit 26 (54 Av N). It's being used to warn motorists of the temporary closure of the ramp onto Interstate 275 (Exit 23A) due to the tanker truck fire that happened weeks ago (and the Florida DOT is doing everything possible to get this ramp repaired and back in service - great job Florida DOT!) as well as informing motorists of parking conditions at Tropicana Field on Tampa Bay Devil Rays game days and where to exit for other downtown St. Petersburg events. It's in the same location where an older variable message sign was located for many years.

Presently the variable message signs are being installed from north of Exit 26 (54 Av N) in St. Petersburg to north of Exit 53 (Bearss Avenue) in Tampa, with a gap from Exit 39 (FL 60) to Exit 44 (Ashley Drive/Tampa Street) due to upcoming major reconstruction for this segment of Interstate 275 in Tampa just around the corner; it would not be practical to install the variable message signs on this segment until the reconstruction is done. For more information on the upcoming Interstate 275 reconstruction in Tampa check out the Florida DOT's Tampa Bay Interstates website.

Remember, you can also find out traffic information not only for Interstate 275 but for all the major highways in the Tampa Bay area by calling 511 or visiting the 511 Tampa Bay website.

You'll enjoy the new variable message signs when it's all installed and done. Let me know what you think of the new variable message signs going up on Interstate 275.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Interstate 375 Overpass Fire

Wednesday evening, 28 March 2007.

The flyover ramp from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 eastbound was quiet. The evening commute wrapped up a few hours ago.

Until sometime before 11 PM: A gasoline tanker trailer on its way to Sarasota to deliver fuel to the many convenience stores there did not make it to its destinations - instead, tragedy unfolded as the driver of the tanker trailer, thinking he may have still been on Interstate 275 headed south, exited onto Interstate 375 eastbound. Not knowing the fact that the driver was on a 50 mph ramp instead of the 65 mph highway, the tanker burst into flames as the driver tried to negotiate the near-sharp flyover ramp.

The tragic result was that the driver of the tanker truck passed away and a large fire ensued on the flyover ramp. As the flyover ramp goes over a City of St. Petersburg maintenance yard, several pieces of equipment owned by the City were lost as the gasoline from the tanker truck rained down from the overpass above.

The next morning engineers from the Florida DOT surveyed the damage to the overpass as a result of the tanker fire. It was concluded that a span of the overpass needed to be replaced as the concrete damaged in the fire was in no condition to let traffic back on.

Looking at the entrance to Interstate 375 eastbound from Interstate 275 southbound the morning after, 29 March 2007

With the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg being held the next day and the season home opener of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays a week away at Tropicana Field (plus the so many commuters that regularly use this ramp) how do you manage to get by with one less exit ramp into downtown St. Petersburg? Interstate 375's cousin to the south, Interstate 175, provided the answer along with a few alternate routes into downtown St. Petersburg. From what I understand, these events got off without a hitch traffic wise.

However, I believe several factors contributed to this tragic event. I wrote the following letter to the St. Petersburg Times in response to an article published on Saturday, 31 March 2007:

When this section of Interstate 275 was built in 1977 I believe the exit onto Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) should have been constructed as a right hand exit with access to 5th Avenue North. However, when the interstate was built with the left exit onto Interstate 375 the signage was well marked with advisories and warnings regarding the left exit and the reduced speed limit to 50 mph.

As a result of numerous sign replacement projects including the most recent one in conjunction with a concrete pavement rehabilitation project a while ago the left exit advisory signage - including the yellow "exit only" panel on the bottom of the sign - was replaced with nothing more than a diagrammatic sign without any mention of a left exit advisory. Any warning of a left exit onto Interstate 375 (or its counterpart, Interstate 175) from Interstate 275 today is nothing more than a little post mounted "Exit 50 mph" sign on the left side. I agree, once you are on that ramp onto Interstate 375 it's too late.

There is a similarity between the accident on Interstate 375 at Interstate 275 and the charter bus accident on Interstate 75 in Atlanta: Both exits have minimally marked left exit advisories. Perhaps if the left exit advisories were better signed these tragedies may have been averted.

Yes, the Interstate 375 ramp should have been constructed as a right exit. Having to exit from the left lane is confusing, yet sometimes dangerous. However, the left exit design was planned for in the very first place as Interstate 375 was supposed to continue west to the beaches as an east-west beach expressway but that idea was nixed long ago. The only remnant of this idea is a ghost ramp which can be seen on the ramp from westbound Interstate 375 to southbound Interstate 275.

Yes, the signage for Interstate 375 east from Interstate 275 south (Exit 23A) does not provide for any left exit warning. Back in 1977 when this section of Interstate 275 opened it had signage for Interstate 375 east complete with an "Exit Only" panel for the two left exit lanes as well as side mounted signage warning motorists of the 50 mph speed advisory for the ramp. Thirty years and a few sign replacement projects later the signage was replaced by two diagrammatic overheads and the overhead at the point of exit no longer has an "Exit Only" panel attached to the bottom. The only warning signage that exists today is the small side mounted 50 mph advisory signage on the left side of the exit ramp.

It should be interesting to note that at one point the MUTCD - or the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the book that defines the standards for road signs in the United States - did call for the use of the "Exit Only" panel when you have lanes departing from the mainline highway as part of the exit. The MUTCD was revised a few years ago to eliminate the "Exit Only" panel requirement when the lanes departing from the mainline interstate highway go to another interstate highway such as the junction of Interstate 275 and Interstate 375. I believe the "Exit Only" panel requirement should have been left in place as eve though you are transitioning from one interstate highway to another, you have exited from one interstate highway to begin with.

I believe the Florida DOT should upgrade the signage for both Interstate 375 and Interstate 175 (Exit 23A and Exit 22) from Interstate 275 south stating the fact that these exits are left lane exits and placing better warning signage such as the tipping truck graphic warning sign found in Tampa at Exit 39 (FL 60) from Interstate 275 southbound.

As for the overpass from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375, work is progressing at a steady pace to get the overpass sections replaced and the overpass open to traffic again around 1 May 2007. Having this overpass open would be a relief for commuters as well as those headed to Tropicana Field as a good alternate route.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

An updated look for!

After so many months of updating the pictures (of course due to the ongoing construction and new traffic patterns) and updating the links and all the other things that go with a website, the updated look for is now online!

This is a much better improvement over the old version, which was unchanged for several months. I know, I got your emails asking me when I am going to update content due to the ongoing construction taking place and the resulting traffic shifts. So, rather than just do the improvements piecemeal I went ahead and gave an updated makeover. Besides, the website needed a good makeover anyway.

As an updated is now online, I would like to ask a little favor of our website visitors: Although I checked the links to make sure they work, if you see a link which is broken or nonfunctioning in any way please by all means report it to me via the Feedback page (select the Report a Broken Link on the first drop down menu) and I will take a look at it and correct it if needed.

In the meantime, please enjoy the updated for 2007 website! I would like to hear your feedback after you take a look - please feel free to reply to this post. Keep coming back to frequently and often - you'll never know something new is there!