Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Back to School Time!

Starting Tuesday, 25 August 2009, children will be heading back to school in both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. What is this going to mean for you? School zones and 15 mph speed limits as well as the many school buses on the roads as you make your way to work or wherever you need to be.

Please, when you approach any of these school zones – especially the one on 54 Av N east of Interstate 275 (Exit 26) next to Sexton Elementary School, Northeast High School or Meadowlawn Middle School (Meadowlawn is on 16 St N north of Northeast High) here in St. Petersburg – slow down and reduce your speed to the posted speed limit for the school zone. That cell phone conversation can wait until you arrive at your destination; your primary concern is the safety of our children on their way to learn.

Being in a hurry to be somewhere is no excuse for speeding in a school zone. In Florida, the fines are pretty steep – speeding fines are doubled for speeding in school zones, as well as construction zones and toll plazas. If you are caught doing 30 mph or over in a posted school zone you are looking at a fine of at least $555.50. Talk about a car loan payment!

While we’re on the subject of back to school, here’s another area we need to address while you make your way to work: School buses.

When you transition off of Interstate 275 and onto the local streets, you will more than likely encounter a few school buses on your way to your destination. But what if that school bus has to stop to pick up children on their way to school and the school bus driver turns on the flashing red lights and extends the stop sign from the bus? Well, here’s the lowdown on what to do if you encounter a stopped school bus with its flashers on and stop sign extended.

According to Section 316.172 of the Florida Statutes, traffic in either direction must stop when a school bus is stopped. The only exceptions are if you are traveling in the opposite direction of the school bus and the roadway is separated by a unpaved median of at least 5 feet or a physical barrier between the roadways.

As I mentioned earlier regarding school zones, being in a hurry is no excuse for not stopping for a school bus. In Florida, the fines are steep for not stopping for a school bus, and if you are caught passing a stopped school bus on the side where children are entering or exiting the bus, you will be subjected to a mandatory court hearing which can result in steep fines being imposed among other things. Again, that cell phone conversation can wait until you have arrived at your destination; safety comes first before anything else.

Now that our children are returning to school, please be careful out there!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Live in Central Pinellas County?

If you are one of those Interstate 275 commuters that live in central Pinellas County and work in downtown St. Petersburg, you know that you can go east on CR 296 all the way to 31st Court North where you can get onto Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg as well as Tampa. It sure beats using congested Roosevelt Blvd. any day since the ramps to CR 296 opened in September 2002.

Now if you are headed home after a tough day at the office in downtown St. Petersburg, you know that you cannot directly get on to CR 296 to head west towards Pinellas Park, Seminole or Largo. Instead, you have to get off at FL 686 (westbound Roosevelt Blvd., Exit 30) and do a quick merge into the left lane once you are on Roosevelt in order to turn left onto 28 St N, as this is the only way from Interstate 275 south to westbound CR 296. Besides, you are stuck in the traffic light queue making the left turn from Roosevelt Blvd. to 28 St N. Sounds like a long commute going home?

Well, that is about to change. If you have seen the construction signs around the vicinity of Exit 30 on Interstate 275 this is because the Florida DOT just recently started on a project to connect southbound Interstate 275 directly into CR 296 and at the same time have traffic free flow onto CR 296 westbound.

Now what does this mean for you?

If you like the convenience of entering Interstate 275 from CR 296, that’s great. Now you’ll get a better convenience of exiting northbound Interstate 275 onto westbound CR 296 without the hassle of being stuck in afternoon rush hour traffic on Roosevelt Blvd. After you pass the split for FL 686 you go on a westbound dedicated ramp that was constructed in 1970 which takes you high over Interstate 275 (in fact, the greatest height on this ramp is 31 feet 2 inches as you cross the exit ramps for Exit 30 from southbound Interstate 275!). As you get ready to make the downhill descent towards Roosevelt Blvd. there will be another split, one for Roosevelt Blvd. westbound and the other to connect into CR 296 westbound.

The new CR 296 westbound ramp will take you over Roosevelt Blvd. and then connect into the existing CR 296 westbound coming from southbound Interstate 275. But that’s not all.

You will be able to free flow into CR 296 by way of an overpass that will carry you over the eastbound lanes of CR 296 and that will take you west towards Pinellas Park, Seminole or Largo. CR 296 has three names that we St. Petersburg and Pinellas County area residents know: 118 Av N, Bryan Dairy Road and 102 Av N. Seminole is connected by way of a new high level bridge spanning Lake Seminole that opened in the mid-1990’s.

As for the flow of eastbound CR 296 to Interstate 275, I am not sure if it will allow free flow from eastbound CR 296 to Interstate 275 without having to make the sharp turn at 30th Court North as it is present practice. But it would be nice for eastbound CR 296 motorists headed towards Interstate 275 to have a free flow movement rather than a stop and go at the traffic signal at 31st Court North.

According to the Florida DOT, construction on this much needed improvement is expected to be wrapped up by Spring 2012. For those that are anxious to see this improvement done, we are going to have to put up with inconveniences that go with any road improvement project: Barrels, barricades, reduced speed, speeding fines doubled in construction zones, and Florida Highway Patrol presence. But in the end, you will have a better way to get to the office in downtown St. Petersburg in the morning and a better way to get home after a long day. It will be inconvenient at first but we’ll have something better in the long run.

In the meantime, feel free to check out my Exit 30 page over in the St. Petersburg section at It's worth taking a look!