Friday, April 22, 2011

Another sad day on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Writing a blog entry like this is a rare occurrence here at the Interstate 275 Blog. However, I was saddened when I came across this article in today's St. Petersburg Times that involved someone who jumped from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It turned out to be the son of former St. Petersburg College President Dr. Carl Kuttler Jr., Carl Kuttler III.

What makes it more saddening is that it took place on a religious holiday before Easter, which is Good Friday. According to the St. Petersburg Times article, Dr. Kuttler's son contacted Bay News 9's Al Ruechel who, in turn, alerted authorities. At least Bay News 9 did everything they could as it tried to stop a suicide that was about to take place on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Being a St. Petersburg College alumnus (Class of 1987, back when it was called St. Petersburg Junior College), I remember the night when I walked the stage at the graduation ceremony held at the Bayfront Center in downtown St. Petersburg. As I walked the stage, I remember the moment I shook Dr. Kuttler's hand and received my associate's degree. After all, receiving my degree was one of my most important achievements setting the stage for what would be my eventual employment by the City of St. Petersburg four months later.

My condolences go out to Dr. Kuttler and his family in this utmost hour of sorrow. And a word of gratitude goes out to Al Ruechel at Bay News 9 for trying to stop a serious situation out there on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Because of the events that transpired on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge involving a suicide, I am reprinting part of a blog entry that I had here at the Interstate 275 Blog on this subject. If you or a loved one you know is in crisis, help is out there.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is help out there.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis situation, here in the Tampa Bay metropolitan area dial 211 for information and referral to someone who can help. If you reside elsewhere, check your local telephone directory for the crisis intervention number in your area. However, in an extreme emergency you can always dial 911. Another resource would be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached toll free at 1 (800) 273-TALK 24/7/365.

For our Spanish speaking visitors: Para ayuda llame al 1 (888) 628-9454.

On the Sunshine Skyway Bridge there are a set of crisis counseling telephones mounted on the high level main span, three on the southbound lanes and three on the northbound lanes. Below these phones is a sign written in English and in Spanish that reads: "There is hope - make the call". These phones connect the caller to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa and the counselor answering the phone can immediately pinpoint where the caller is located so that a Florida Highway Patrol trooper can be dispatched to the caller's location on the Sunshine Skyway. After all, time is very crucial in an emergency situation.

After all, help is out there.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interstate 175: A repeat of Interstate 375?

Last week I came across this interesting article from Bay News 9's traffic reporter Chuck Henson: Ramp not just slippery - but dangerous - when wet.

What we're talking about is the ramp from southbound Interstate 275 onto eastbound Interstate 175 (Exit 22) in downtown St. Petersburg. This ramp has the same design characteristics as its partner to the north at Exit 23: Left hand exit with a steep curve to the left. However, there is a difference in that traffic using this ramp goes under - rather than over - the northbound lanes of Interstate 275.

Unlike Exit 23A (the ramp from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375), the only warning signage is the word "Left" in black letters on a yellow background above the exit number tabs as well as advisory signage for the ramp speed of 50 mph mounted on the left side of the southbound lanes at the point of exit. To me, this is an accident waiting to happen.

Realize that the parking lots for Tropicana Field - home of the Tampa Bay Rays - are what's below you when you exit onto Interstate 175 from southbound Interstate 275 or pass through on the Interstate 275 mainline. Just add a rain slick day and a Rays sellout game with a popular team (such as the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox) and you have a potential for an Interstate 375-like accident.

When you exit onto eastbound Interstate 175 from southbound Interstate 275, you will notice that the ramp is banked a little more sharply as it makes its curve towards the east. On the other hand, the Interstate 375 ramp is not as banked to the left. Unfortunately, people in a hurry to be somewhere still continue their 65 mph or greater pace on the Interstate 275 mainline until it's almost too late.

The concrete deck on the Interstate 175 ramp from southbound Interstate 275 is the same concrete deck when the highway was built in 1977-78. Unfortunately, the concrete deck is not grooved to assist in traction during inclement weather. Additionally, the Interstate 175 ramp from southbound Interstate 275 also has a tendency to flood on the left lane during a severe rain event; there are drains that are supposed to carry the rain water from the ramp into the drainage system but, according to the Bay News 9 article, the ramp area where it floods does not drain.

Now what should be done?

First, get rid of that pesky advisory 50 mph sign mounted on the left side of the ramp and replace it with two Speed Limit 50 regulatory signs plus the speed reduction warning sign before the ramp, just like the setup at Interstate 375. This will get a lot of people to slow down for the ramp, and it will give the Florida Highway Patrol the authority it needs to issue tickets to those who drive way too fast for the ramp. Interstate 175 has a speed limit of 50 mph going eastbound and the speed limit drops to 40 mph at the 6 St S exit prior to Interstate 175's end at 4 St S.

Second, fix the poor drainage issue on the part of the ramp where it floods in the left lane. The ramp drains are there, but what's going on as far as maintenance is concerned?

Now for the long term...

The ramps for both Interstate 175 and Interstate 375 from southbound Interstate 275 are indeed haphazardly designed when the highway was built in the mid- to late 1970's. Unfortunately the engineers to be at the Florida DOT did not take into account the traffic volume nor the fact that we have a Major League Baseball team playing at Tropicana Field, which for all purposes and intents will be staying until the lease expires in 2027. (As for the Rays staying at Tropicana Field, that's for another topic over at the Edward Ringwald Blog).

What should be done is a collector-distributor ramp should be built from the right lanes which collects traffic from Interstate 275 southbound and distributes traffic into downtown St. Petersburg onto 5 Av N, Interstate 375 and of course Interstate 175. Just like the new collector-distributor ramp that was recently built in Tampa at the exit to Tampa International Airport from northbound Interstate 275 (Exit 39), it would allow traffic headed to downtown St. Petersburg from southbound Interstate 275 to exit at one point and decide how one wants to go into downtown St. Petersburg. Of course traffic headed to Treasure Island would definitely use the 5 Av N exit to reach Central Avenue to head west towards the beaches.

The new collector-distributor ramp would more than likely be a high level ramp that would take motorists over the Interstate 275 mainline to reach Interstates 375 or 175. However, the ramp to 5 Av N would transition from the exit to the existing at grade intersection that currently exists.

So, is it going to take a tragic accident to happen on the Interstate 175 ramp from southbound Interstate 275 - just like what happened on the Interstate 375 ramp - before the Florida DOT gets around to fixing the ramp's safety issues? You decide.

After all, not only Interstate 175 takes you to downtown St. Petersburg, it also takes you to several important downtown St. Petersburg landmarks including the Mahaffey Theater, the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg Campus and two well known and respected St. Petersburg hospitals: Bayfront Medical Center and the new All Children's Hospital which has recently joined forces with Baltimore based John Hopkins Healthcare.