Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Sunset of 2011 and the Sunrise of 2012

It's New Year's Eve, and that means everyone will be out there partying until the stroke of Midnight when 2011 gives way to 2012. However, New Years Eve can be a memorable experience for you if you celebrate responsibly.

I posted some helpful tips on celebrating New Year's Eve safely that was inspired by a Bay News 9 article on this subject. I recently expanded this topic and turned these tips into a PDF document which I have made available on on a permanent basis simply by clicking on this link. It's easy to celebrate the holidays safely, and it's not just restricted to New Year's Eve.

I put these tips here as a reminder of the most common danger of being out and about on New Year's Eve (as well as any other major holiday), especially out there on Interstate 275 as well as other major highways in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area: Drinking and driving. I post these tips out there as a public service in the hope that needless accidents can be prevented, especially around New Year's Eve.

After all, the Florida Highway Patrol - along with other law enforcement agencies in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area - will be out in full force looking out for impaired drivers. If you drink and get behind the wheel, and a state trooper sees you driving erraticly or you have the misfortune of going through a DUI checkpoint, expect to spend the beginning of the new year with a pair of steel handcuffs, placed behind your back and double locked, and being taken to either the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jail depending on where you get arrested and spending time in a holding cell until you sober up.

As a reminder, if your New Year's Eve celebrations include drinking, please, please do one of three things:

1. Designate a driver.

2. Call a taxi to take you home. You can retrieve your car the next day.

3. Spend the night at a hotel or a friend's house. Even if rates are high for New Year's Eve or any other major holiday, it's much better (and much cheaper) to pay for a room at the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg Bayfront or any other hotel than face the consequences of DUI if you are caught.

Ask yourself: Would you rather pay $120 for a hotel room for one night or $20,000 for taking a chance by drinking and driving? Let's see:

$120: Can pay for one night's hotel room on New Year's Eve (approximately).

$20,000: Can pay for your first DUI, and we're talking DUI that does not involve property damage, bodily injury or even death. It includes, among other things:

Court imposed fines
Court imposed costs
Attorney's fees
Cost for ignition interlock
Cost to retrieve your vehicle from the impound lot
Mandatory DUI school
Increased insurance costs
And the list goes on and on...

It's your choice.

Again, do yourself a favor and if you had even one drink, don't get behind the wheel and drive! Let's start 2012 on the right note!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sunshine Skyway: Coming Soon to a Postage Stamp Near You

Soon the Sunshine Skyway will be featured on a postage stamp. You got that right, a U.S. postage stamp.

I was amazed to see the Sunshine Skyway finally earning its place on a postage stamp. After all, the current Sunshine Skyway - opened in 1987 - is a bridge that not only carries Interstate 275 and US 19, it is a iconic symbol of what we are in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area.

The Sunshine Skyway is also a symbol of triumph over tragedy. Seven years before the current Sunshine Skyway opened tragedy struck on a rainy and stormy morning at 7:38 AM on 9 May 1980 when the Summit Venture collided with an anchor pier immediately adjacent to the main channel pier on the southbound span which opened in 1971. Upon impact the anchor pier was sheared off at its base causing a major chain of events which led to a majority of the southbound main span falling 150 feet into the waters of Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, 35 lives were lost that fateful morning which included passengers on a Miami-bound Greyhound Bus.

The northbound span - which was the original Sunshine Skyway built in 1954 - was undamaged. Shortly after the southbound span fell the northbound span was checked out by the Florida DOT for structural damage, and on Sunday, 11 May 1980 the northbound span was reopened to two-way traffic with a 45 mph (70 km/h) speed limit and a double yellow no passing line.

In the months following the Sunshine Skyway disaster a major decision had to be made: Either rebuild the southbound span to what it was before the accident or build an entirely new bridge. The reaction was mixed, with Pinellas and Manatee interests wanting to rebuild the southbound span and Hillsbiorough interests - after all, the main shipping channel is part of Hillsborough County as the Sunshine Skyway covers three counties - wanted an entirely new bridge which would be safer. Besides, Interstate 275 was under construction in St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway would be an important part of Interstate 275 as it would connect St. Petersburg with the newly extended Interstate 75 to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.

In the end, a newly constructed Sunshine Skyway won. Construction began in 1982 and dedication ceremonies were held in February 1987, followed by its formal opening in April 1987. The original 1954 Sunshine Skyway northbound span served its purpose carrying two way traffic from right after the accident on 9 May 1980 to when the new Sunshine Skyway opened. Four years later after the new Sunshine Skyway opened, in 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway spans were demolished.

Today the Sunshine Skyway not just carries Interstate 275 over Tampa Bay providing a breathtaking view at 191 feet, it is an icon which represents the purpose of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Compare the Sunshine Skyway in Florida to the Golden Gate Bridge in California; after all, the Golden Gate Bridge represents the purpose of the San Francisco area similar to the Sunshine Skyway even though the bridge designs are different.

Now the Sunshine Skyway has earned its place as one of the major bridges in the United States. Being on a U.S. postage stamp plus its popularity over the years has landed the Sunshine Skyway into a permanent national spotlight.

By the way, the postage stamp is supposed to be released sometime in 2012 according to articles both on Bay News 9 as well as the St. Petersburg Times. The value of the stamp is equivalent to the current 1-lb. Priority Mail rate, which is $5.15.

I'm excited to see the new postage stamp for myself when it's released.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reminder on Etiquette when approaching a Toll Plaza and Other Things

It's the holiday season, and traffic is heavier than usual on the interstates and toll roads of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Unfortunately, I don't like to say this but I have seen a lack of etiquette out there on the roads especially during the holiday season.

For instance, I took a side trip to Tarpon Springs recently when I was trying to turn left from southbound US 19 onto eastbound Keystone Road, which is undergoing a transformation from two lanes to four lanes from US 19 to East Lake Road (CR 611). Unfortunately, the protected left turn signal only let just a few cars through and the lane closures on Keystone Road was causing left turning traffic to block the northbound lanes of extremely busy US 19. As the left turn signal changed from green to red I had no choice but to stop and wait for the next signal to avoid being stranded out in the intersection as well as avoid a ticket for running a red light.

Unfortunately, a gentleman driving a SUV behind me did not like my careful operation of my vehicle in accordance with Chapter 316 of the Florida Statutes. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw him making threatening gestures at me, including yelling at me apparently telling me to break the law so that he can get to the CVS Pharmacy on the southeast corner of US 19 and Keystone Road. Luckily, the man in the SUV behind me did not do anything more serious as there was a Tarpon Springs Police officer on eastbound Keystone Road waiting to cross US 19.

I cannot understand why the man in the SUV behind me had to be in a hurry for. Was it because he had to pick up a prescription at the CVS Pharmacy in a hurry? (Hey, CVS Pharmacy has late hours). Was it also that the man in the SUV was in a hurry to get Christmas shopping done? These questions I won't know the answer to.

OK. Getting back on topic here.

Let's say you are at a toll plaza and you enter the SunPass only lane by mistake. Or, you enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and you do not have a SunPass. What do you do?

First and foremost, do NOT stop or turn around - not only it is illegal, it is dangerous! Simply drive through the SunPass lane - your license plate will be captured by way of a photo image and you will be sent a bill for the toll(s) owed. Instructions on how to pay for the missed toll(s) are on the bill that you would receive.

In fact, here's the perfect stocking stuffer you can get - a SunPass transponder and account for your vehicle. With a SunPass, you can pay reduced toll rates for those with SunPass transponders than those paying with cash. Besides, more and more toll plazas are being converted from the traditional method of toll collection to all electronic toll collection. The SunPass web site has more details including where you can go to pick up your own SunPass transponder as well as how to set up your SunPass account.

Now here are some more road etiquette tips for you motorists out there:

That conversation or business deal on that cell phone or smartphone can wait until you arrive at your destination safely. Same thing goes for texting too.

If you have to be at a place at a certain time (such as getting to your flight at Tampa International Airport or getting to work on time), please leave early. That way, you can arrive at your destination with even a few more minutes to spare!

Take it easy in those crowded mall and shopping center parking lots. In fact, why don't you drop off your party at the front entrance so that you can park the car and then you can join your party inside at a predetermined location after you are settled in. Besides, everyone will be happy campers.

Handicap parking spaces are only for those with a handicap parking placard and are handicapped. If you happen to have someone's handicap parking placard and you are not handicapped, don't abuse the privilege.

Don't speed or tailgate your fellow motorists out there on our highways in an attempt to be somewhere on time. Not only it's against the law and you can get an expensive traffic ticket, you are also throwing money away on gasoline too. Besides, the money you save by not speeding or tailgating you can use it on Christmas shopping!

And one more thing: PLEASE DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE! Especially when New Year's Eve rolls around, it's much better to stay overnight - whether it may be a friend's house or a hotel room such as the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg (even if the rooms are pricey for New Year's Eve) - than spend the New Year in the booking area of the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jails. Besides, it costs about $20,000 when you factor in fines, court costs, attorney's fees, etc. for a DUI - and we're talking first offense DUI here.

So, enjoy the holiday season and beyond in 2012.

NOTE: Comments are closed for this blog entry.