Sunday, September 27, 2009

Southbound Howard Frankland is closed: What to do?

In light of a major accident that happened on Sunday afternoon, 27 September 2009, that closed Interstate 275 at the Howard Frankland Bridge the variable message signs were informing motorists headed south on Interstate 275 towards St. Petersburg to use FL 60/Spruce Street.

For your information, the Florida DOT has this information wrong. Yes you could use FL 60 but you will end up taking a roundabout detour across the Courtney Campbell Causeway and eventually into St. Petersburg by way of Clearwater. You got that right - head through Clearwater.

But you do not want to go to Clearwater. You want to go to St. Petersburg.

You are on southbound Interstate 275 and you just passed downtown Tampa which provides access to the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway and to the Gandy Bridge. Or, you are at Tampa International Airport and you are stuck not wondering what to do.


I am going to give you a secret as to how to get to St. Petersburg from Tampa in case the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed without having to backtrack into downtown Tampa to catch the Crosstown. It’s easy.

First, for those of you on southbound Interstate 275 and the variable message signs tell you the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed and you are getting very close to the last exit in Tampa, Exit 39. Take Exit 40A, which is Westshore Blvd., and head south. Westshore goes into a two lane road south of Kennedy Blvd. but follow Westshore all the way to Gandy Blvd., a distance of about two or three miles. Take a right on Gandy and follow Gandy across the Gandy Bridge into St. Petersburg. Once across the Gandy Bridge continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 and reenter Interstate 275 from there. Sounds good enough?

Second, for those of you coming out of Tampa International Airport and you find that the Florida Highway Patrol has closed the entrance ramp to southbound Interstate 275 to St. Petersburg, here’s what to do. You will see signage for FL 616, which is eastbound Spruce Street – exit onto Spruce Street and head east for about a mile to Westshore Blvd. Turn right onto Westshore Blvd. and head south; you will go under Interstate 275 and pass Kennedy Blvd. and Westshore Plaza on the right but you want to keep heading south on Westshore Blvd. As mentioned previously Westshore goes into a two lane road south of Kennedy Blvd. but follow Westshore all the way to Gandy Blvd., a distance of about two or three miles. Take a right on Gandy and follow Gandy across the Gandy Bridge into St. Petersburg. Once across the Gandy Bridge continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 and reenter Interstate 275 from there. Sounds better?

Now you have the secret in case the Howard Frankland Bridge southbound is closed and you are too far from the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa: Westshore Blvd. and Gandy Blvd. And believe me, if you are headed towards St. Petersburg from Tampa it’s much quicker than following the “recommended” detour through Clearwater courtesy of the Florida DOT.

And one more thing. Remember to check your speed when traveling Westshore Blvd., especially the section south of Kennedy Blvd. to Gandy Blvd. The speed limit is 30 mph and the men and women in blue of the Tampa Police Department enforce the speed limit. That means if you use Westshore Blvd. as a detour please be respectful of the neighborhood as you pass through.

The same thing goes for Gandy Blvd. and the Gandy Bridge: The speed limits on Gandy Blvd. are enforced not only by Tampa PD on the Tampa end but also by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office on the St. Petersburg end (the St. Petersburg end is unincorporated Pinellas County until just before 4 St N). So please watch your speed and allow extra time if Interstate 275 at the Howard Frankland Bridge is closed.

Finally, I feel that commuter rail utilizing the center of Interstate 275 is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity if the Tampa Bay area as a region wants to succeed when America pulls itself out of the current recession. No matter why more prominent companies will not relocate to the Tampa Bay area due to inept mass transit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

This morning (Friday, 18 September 2009) I was reading the article on Bay News 9's web site about the overnight closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to someone making a bomb hoax on a CB radio. When I was reading the article I saw a link to more info on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and - to my surprise - my page on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge at the site. A special thank you goes out to Bay News 9 for the link to my site!

Now let me talk to you about a very serious subject: Bomb hoaxes and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Before I go on further, let me tell you that making false reports about destructive devices on public property in the State of Florida is not only morally wrong, it is illegal and a second degree felony pursuant to Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes. Besides, the court can require the perpetrator to reimburse the law enforcement agency or agencies that were involved in investigating a false report so made.

Back before the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987, the old Sunshine Skyway has had its share of bomb hoaxes, especially from after the 9 May 1980 incident to the day the new Sunshine Skyway opened in 1987. For a while there were a rash of bomb hoaxes; the perpetrators (this was back in the older days before telephone tracing equipment got more sophisticated) would telephone the Sunshine Skyway toll facility rather than law enforcement or 911 in the hopes of evading detection and not being caught. According to several St. Petersburg Times articles after the hoax calls were getting out of control to the point that telephone tracing equipment was installed to track callers. Soon after the tracing equipment was installed it proved helpful in tracking down and arresting a teenager who called in a false bomb hoax report regarding the Sunshine Skyway.

After all, if you have the occasion to call your local police department or 911 your call is not only traced it is also recorded. If you happen to live in Verizon territory where Verizon is your local telephone provider you have an option to trace a telephone call for a per use charge; the trace records are only released to a law enforcement agency and is very helpful if you are receiving harassing or threatening telephone calls.

Over the past 20 years or so telephone tracing equipment has gotten technologically advanced. Most of us have a feature that acts as a "peephole" for your telephone and that is called Caller ID. Some telephone providers have gone a step further; you can listen to your voicemails and find out who called you all on your computer.

In the recent bomb hoax scare that closed the Sunshine Skyway, the perpetrator did not use a telephone according to Bay News 9. Instead, the caller used an older form of chat room technology long before there was the Internet, and that is CB Radio. Telephone calls are easy to trace, while CB Radio transmissions are believed to be harder to trace. One way to find out where a radio transmission is coming from is to use a device called a direction finder; this is used by the FCC to aid them in locating unlicensed radio stations. On the flip side of the coin, telephone conversations are private in general while radio transmissions can be heard by anyone with the right equipment.

Anytime the Sunshine Skyway is closed, especially in both directions - whether it may be a suicidal person or a bomb hoax - it creates an economic hardship for everyone in the Tampa Bay area as those who live in St. Petersburg and want to go to Bradenton or Sarasota and vice versa must make the 50+ mile detour across the Gandy or Howard Frankland bridges into Tampa and follow Interstate 75 to their destination should the Sunshine Skyway be closed. Also remember too that while the Sunshine Skyway bridge is principally under the law enforcement jurisdiction of the Florida Highway Patrol as the Sunshine Skyway is part of Interstate 275, there are not two but three counties the Sunshine Skyway is a part of: Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee.

Now you are asking yourself, why Hillsborough County? That's a very good question! The center high rise section of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is in Hillsborough County, a vestige of how Hillsborough County extended to the gulf beaches before Pinellas County was created in 1912.

Now if a high profile incident involves the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the Florida Highway Patrol gets involved as the lead law enforcement agency, as well as the sheriff's offices of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties, and even the St. Petersburg Police Department as well. And we can't forget to mention a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: The United States Coast Guard. Now talk about a multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional nightmare if the Sunshine Skyway had to be closed for any reason; if it takes place during the day (and especially during the morning or afternoon commute) it would be a bigger nightmare.

That means whoever makes a report of a bomb hoax involving the Sunshine Skyway will not only face a felony conviction (and absolutely no withhold of adjudication per Section 790.164 of the Florida Statutes) including fines and time in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in a state correctional institution, the court can order the perpetrator to make restitution for the trouble caused as a result of the false report.

Hopefully law enforcement will catch whoever committed this act and the person(s) who committed this act will face severe consequences. As it was part of the theme of a TV show in the 1970's, "if you can't pay the time don't do the crime".