Sunday, December 30, 2012

As the sun sets on 2012 and the sun rises on 2013

As the sun starts to set on 2012, perhaps we can start on an Interstate 275 related topic - transit related, that is.

You probably know this already, but we are one of the few metropolitan areas in the United States that has no meaningful mass transit system.  In other words, we have just buses with schedules that are most of the time inconvenient.  Translation:  Owning a car is mandatory, unless you are lucky enough to live close to work (such as downtown St. Petersburg or downtown Tampa, for example).

For the Tampa Bay region (Tampa/St. Petersburg) to succeed and be competitive with other metropolitan areas in the country, our region's transit system needs a complete overhaul to include rail based mass transit.  Sure we can widen Interstate 275 in Tampa to eight lanes but it comes with a major price tag:  Land acquisition on either side of Interstate 275 in order to make the expansion among other things.  In other words, simply widening Interstate 275 is not enough to fix our region's transit woes.

I came across this article I found in The Tampa Tribune about bus service between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport.  According to that article, it is possible to ride a HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) bus from downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport to help save on uber expensive taxi cab fare but there is one catch:  Transit time between the airport and downtown is 42 minutes, give or take, and the route follows not Interstate 275 but Kennedy Blvd. (FL 60).

You know what taking Kennedy Blvd. to downtown from the airport and vice versa is, especially if traffic on Interstate 275 is backed up due to an accident and you have to use Kennedy Blvd. as an alternate route:  Several traffic signals and yet another major backup during the weekday on eastbound Kennedy Blvd. when you get past Lois Avenue, as Kennedy Blvd. narrows from three to two eastbound lanes just before Dale Mabry Highway (US 92).  The end result is stop and go traffic, which motorists and buses are subjected to daily.

The solution, according to The Tampa Tribune article, is this:  Transit service between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport can be made quicker but not using a rail-based solution.  Instead, the plan calls for bus rapid transit between the two locations utilizing not Kennedy Blvd. but Interstate 275.  That might sound OK, but I think bus rapid transit is not enough (in fact, not even the answer).  Why?

Even if such a route utilizes Interstate 275 between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport, buses would be subjected to the same delay as motorists, especially if there is an accident causing a partial or complete closure of Interstate 275 at some point requiring traffic to detour.  In downtown Tampa between the Marion Street Transit Center and Interstate 275 at Ashley/Tampa Streets (Exit 44), buses would have specialized equipment on board that would change traffic signals in favor of the bus.  Again, once a bus is on city streets it is basically subject to the same traffic delays as motorists are.

With the widening of Interstate 275 between the exit for Tampa International Airport (FL 60, Exit 39) and downtown Tampa just before the Hillsborough River now taking place, there is ample space in the median to accommodate rail based mass transit - a commuter rail line, a light rail line or even Amtrak service to St. Petersburg (which has not seen an Amtrak train since 1984; all Amtrak service is out of Tampa Union Station as we know today)!  Using that space in the newly expanded Interstate 275 median thanks to the widening that is taking place, perhaps a light rail line could be constructed between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport, perhaps as the first line of a network of light and/or commuter rail lines linking Tampa with St. Petersburg, Clearwater, New Tampa and other locations in the Tampa Bay region with buses providing the feeder service into the rail system.

Perhaps the folks at HART as well as TBARTA (the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority) ought to revisit transit between downtown Tampa and Tampa International Airport from a rail based perspective rather than a bus based perspective.  From what I have read, studies have shown that rail based transit leaves less of a carbon footprint in that electricity is used (especially for light rail systems - if you want an example, look no further than the TECO Streetcar Line that connects downtown Tampa with Ybor City, but the electric lines can be fixed using a third rail concept to make the surrounding area more appealing), rather than using diesel fuel as buses use today.  Commuter rail and Amtrak, from what I understand, uses diesel fueled locomotives but their consumption is greatly reduced when you compare it to a bus that uses regular streets and highways.

(After all, rail based transit runs on dedicated right of way while bus based transit is a part of regular highway traffic.  Even if bus rapid transit is implemented with a dedicated bus lane, still buses would have to stop for traffic signals even though there is equipment installed that would give the bus priority.  However, dedicated bus lanes can't be everywhere depending on where the lanes are installed.)

In fact, a recent Bay News 9 I-Poll asks this question:  Do you think the Tampa Bay region is ready to support a light rail system?  As of 30 December 2012, 51% is saying yes while only 44% are not.  I think the people of Tampa and Hillsborough County are getting the message when they defeated a measure on the ballot that would allow a light rail system to be constructed using tax monies to finance its construction.  To me, I think the reality of congested traffic and longer commutes is setting in, and it is pronounced as every year goes by in the Tampa Bay region without a reliable and workable mass transit system based on more choices than what we have today.

And another Tampa Bay region mass transit issue should be fixed if and when the day light and/or commuter rail comes:  The merger of HART and PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) into one system, run by TBARTA which would be a comprehensive mix of light rail, commuter rail and buses.

OK.  Let's change gears and head towards the sun rising on 2013 and the new year.

Every New Year's Eve I put out a reminder on celebrating the holidays safely, whether it may be New Year's Eve, 4th of July or even the unofficial holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.  You can find these tips to celebrate the holidays such as New Year's Eve safely right here at (this link will open a PDF document in a new window).

Just remember, if you are celebrating New Year's Eve and the beginning of 2013 and alcoholic beverages are part of the celebrations, may I give you some words of advice, especially if you had too much?

1.  Designate a driver to take you home.

2.  Call a taxi cab and have a taxi cab driver take you home.

3.  Call AAA's Tow To Go at 1 (855) 286-9246, according to this recent St. Petersburg Times Dr. Delay article.

4.  Stay the night at a friend's house.

5.  Stay the night at a hotel, such as the Hilton Downtown St. Petersburg Bayfront, the Hampton Inn Downtown St. Petersburg or any other hotel in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region.  Rates may be high for New Year's Eve, but it's better to spend $150-$175 for one night's hotel room than spending at least $10,000 defending yourself against a DUI charge, if not more.  (Not to mention spending the first few hours of 2013 in the Pinellas or Hillsborough County Jails in their respective booking and holding areas, as you will not be able to even make bail until you are sober enough).

6.  The Tampa Bay region's law enforcement agencies - such as the Florida Highway Patrol, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, as well as the St. Petersburg Police Department and Tampa Police Department, just to name a few - will be out in full force New Year's Eve and New Year's Morning with active patrols looking for impaired drivers as well as the use of DUI checkpoints.  If you are pulled over and caught, you will be arrested for DUI.  Once the officer or FHP trooper puts those nickel plated law enforcement regulation handcuffs on you behind your back it is the beginning of what lies ahead as far as a DUI arrest is concerned.

7.  DUI can have serious ramifications as far as your future is concerned - your job, your career, even taking a trip to Canada.  (Convicted of a DUI?  You will have an extremely hard time entering Canada for a vacation trip!)  Besides, your auto insurance rates will soar right through the roof, so much that you will be a high risk driver and insurance companies will either charge you extremely high rates or drop you altogether.

And one more thing:  Forget about renting a car if you were recently convicted of a DUI - the major car rental agencies, such as Alamo and Dollar, do check driving records with the swipe of your driver's license; all it takes is for the car rental agent to find out that you had a recent DUI conviction and the agent denies your rental.  Besides, it's way more embarassing than your credit card being declined.

And you will have a record for a DUI, even if it's your first time.  Florida law prohibits judges from withholding adjudication of guilt on any DUI charge, if you are found guilty.

Sobering?  New Year's Eve, the stroke of midnight and the sun rising on 2013 doesn't have to end in a DUI arrest, or worse.

Let's start 2013 with New Year's Day on a positive note!  Happy New Year from!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Response to St. Petersburg Times article on the St. Petersburg entry monument

By now you probably drove by the entry monument for St. Petersburg when you head south on Interstate 275 just before the 4 St N exit (Exit 32).  If you haven't read my previous blog entry on the entry monument north of 4 St N in St. Petersburg, please feel free to do so.  After all, that entry monument really puts St. Petersburg's best foot forward.

Unfortunately, the St. Petersburg Times - er, the misnamed Tampa Bay Times - has decided to go pro-Tampa and be anti-St. Petersburg.  This article written by Times staff writer Michael Kruse (in print on 2 December 2012) is nothing more than the worst anti-St. Petersburg article I have ever seen since the day the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times on 1 January 2012.  As such, this blog entry shows my disappointment with the St. Petersburg Times over how it covers its stories in this present day and age.

Mr. Kruse, let me tell you a few points about your anti-St. Petersburg article regarding the newly constructed entry monument on Interstate 275 just north of the 4 St N exit:

1.  You mention that the sign is "monstrous".  This sign is not monstrous in any way whatsoever - it is a beautiful sign seen by St. Petersburg residents as well as visitors, not to mention commuters headed back home to St. Petersburg after a busy work day in Tampa.

2.  The sign was not paid for with our tax dollars.  The City of St. Petersburg was going to construct this sign but it had to be put on the shelf because of budget cutbacks.  However, a prominent St. Petersburg businessman - Bill Edwards, whose company, Big 3 Entertainment, manages the Mahaffey Theater in downtown St. Petersburg - came up with the money to build that monument.

3.  You took it on yourself to compare that entry monument to something from Celebration (which is next to Disney World) or Lakewood Ranch (a community south of Bradenton), an entrance to an apartment or condominium complex or a gateway to an outlet mall.  How dare you say that about the sunshine city of St. Petersburg?

4.  I was born and raised right here in St. Petersburg.  In fact, I grew up as every section of Interstate 275 was being built southward in segments from the Howard Frankland Bridge to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, including the two downtown St. Petersburg connectors, Interstates 375 and 175.

Here's a comment I made on the St. Petersburg Times' site regarding this article I would like to share with you:

The St. Petersburg Times - of course the misnamed Tampa Bay Times - should be ashamed of themselves for even writing this article to begin with. This article is definitely pro-Tampa and anti-St. Petersburg on the spot.

Speaking of the entry monument on Interstate 275 right before you get to the 4 St N exit (Exit 32), this is the most beautiful and welcoming work of art that welcomes residents and visitors to the sunshine city of St. Petersburg. Even in the tough financial times the City of St. Petersburg is facing, at least one prominent local businessman - Bill Edwards - stepped up to the plate and provided the funding to get this entry monument built and done.

First impressions always count.  After all, this entry monument puts St. Petersburg's best foot forward.

Besides, this article shows clearly why the misnamed Tampa Bay Times does not care about St. Petersburg anymore. After all, the St. Petersburg Times made a monumental mistake on 1 January 2012 when it changed its name to the pro-Tampa, anti-St. Petersburg Tampa Bay Times.

We have two other entry monuments at the eastern ends of both Interstates 375 and 175 in downtown St. Petersburg.  Those entry monuments are not "monstrous" contrary to what the St. Petersburg Times mentioned in the article I have recently seen.  As a St. Petersburg resident, I am proud of these entry monuments every time I ride by them.

As for the St. Petersburg Times, it used to be a great newspaper until it started covering more and more Tampa related stories.  As time wore on, the St. Petersburg Times covered less and less St. Petersburg, even going to the point of calling St. Petersburg "South Pinellas".  And, on 1 January 2012, the St. Petersburg Times did a lot of collateral damage to themselves by renaming it the Tampa Bay Times.  All you will find in the St. Petersburg Times today are articles that are nothing more than sensationalized and speculated for maximum fear effect.  You can read more about this in one of my blog entries over at the Edward Ringwald Blog (that's my other blog) about the credit crunch and the news media.

And one more thing:  Even though the St. Petersburg Times is now the Tampa Bay Times, it will still be referred to as the St. Petersburg Times in my book, especially for at least as long as it still maintains a headquarters at 490 1 Av S in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, if not more.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center

Just recently (in fact, over the past Thanksgiving holiday weekend) I took a trip to the Jacksonville area, which included not one but two incursions into the State of Georgia:  One in Folkston (a railfan's paradise as so many CSX and Amtrak trains come through here in order to get to Florida destinations) and the other in Valdosta.

Crossing back into the State of Florida I happened to stop by the official Florida Welcome Centers, one on Interstate 95 north of Yulee and the other on Interstate 75 in Jennings, which is south of Valdosta across the Georgia border.  Not only you get information on which area of Florida you are headed to, you can also sample the beverage that makes Florida so famous:  Orange juice.  While you are there, you can also pick up a copy of the official Florida state map, which is free of charge.

Visiting the two Florida Welcome Centers gave me an inspiration for my next blog topic:  What you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center.  I was originally going to post this over at my other blog, the Edward Ringwald Blog, but for the convenience of our visitors to the Sunshine State as well as our residents headed home to the land of Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay Region, I thought I would post this here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog for the convenience of our visitors.

Now here's what you need to know about the Florida Welcome Center, and there are two types:  The official and the unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

The official Florida Welcome Center is found on interstate highways leading into our great State of Florida:  Interstates 75 and 95 from Georgia and Interstate 10 from Alabama.  Signage for the official Florida Welcome Center is always erected by the Florida DOT and you will see blue overhead signage letting you know that the State of Florida Welcome Center is coming up just after you cross the state line from Georgia or Alabama, like the example shown below of the Florida Welcome Center on Interstate 75 just after crossing over the Florida state line from Georgia:

The official Florida Welcome Center is where you get official Florida tourist information.  The helpful and friendly staff will assist you in getting the information you need for the part of Florida you are headed to - even if you are headed for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area and the land of Interstate 275!  In addition, you can also get major road construction information straight from the official source:  The Florida DOT.  (In fact, this information is also posted at Florida's rest areas and Florida Turnpike service plazas too!)

Now for the other type of Florida Welcome Center I need to tell you about:  The unofficial Florida Welcome Center.

You will see them advertised not on official Florida DOT signage, but on huge billboards that line Interstates 75, 95 and 10 either before you cross the state line into Florida or after you cross.  In order to get to one of these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers, you have to exit the interstate highway.

You may think that these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers feature the same thing that is offered at the official Florida Welcome Centers, but there is a difference:  The sale of Orlando area theme park tickets such as Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios Florida or even Legoland in Winter Haven, especially at cut rate prices or given away for free.


You never know what these unofficial Florida Welcome Centers may be offering:  Information that may be outdated.  As for the Orlando area theme park tickets, those tickets offered either at a cut rate price or for free will more than likely come with an overly aggressive presentation for a time share which you will more than likely have to sit through to get these tickets.  And another thing, you never know how good the tickets are:  You fall for the time share pitch and you get the tickets, only to be refused admittance at the gate because the tickets are no good!

In fact, the unofficial Florida Welcome Centers is one of eight common mistakes when traveling to the Orlando area and the land of Mickey Mouse, according to this article on  Besides, you don't need to endure plenty of fear and anxiety after a long trip thanks to those time share hucksters perched on the sides of Interstate 75 whose sole purpose is to part you from your hard earned money.

As in any real estate transaction, consultation with an attorney who specializes in real estate law is highly recommended.  This is very true if you are considering buying a time share.

The bottom line is this:

Whether you are a visitor to our great State of Florida or you are a resident headed back home after a long trip, if you need traveler information the best resource is the official Florida Welcome Center.  There you will get the latest up to date information you need and the information is given to you - and you don't have to fall to an unwanted time share sales pitch!

And by the way, if you're headed south on Interstate 75 towards the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, approximately 193 miles stands between the official Florida Welcome Center in Jennings (the first exit on Interstate 75 southbound in Florida is FL 143, Exit 467) and the northern terminus of Interstate 275 (Exit 274) located on the Hillsborough-Pasco county line in Wesley Chapel.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Travel Tips

I came across some helpful Thanksgiving travel tips from Meredyth Censullo, who is ABC Action News' traffic reporter (WFTS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in Tampa).  She's got some great Thanksgiving travel tips to keep in mind as you go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go!

Here are some important tips when you set out on the Tampa Bay region's highways including Interstate 275, whether it may be a short trip across town or a long trip across the state (or even across the country):

1.  If your trip involves car travel, check to be sure that your car is in tip top shape.  That means checking all the essential fluids such as your oil level among other things.  That will save you from a mechanical breakdown, especially when you are hundreds of miles from home.

Plan how you will get to Grandma's.  You can use Google Maps or your favorite map program out there on the Internet.

You'll also want to check to make sure that your windshield washer is topped off.  Also check your spare tire and make sure that there are no defects and check your regular tires to make sure that they are inflated properly and that there are no defects as well.

Also check all your lights including your headlights and turn signals too.  Make sure that everything is in working order.

If you got OnStar (the best thing out there since the invention of the motor vehicle), check to make sure that it works.  Simply press the black OnStar phone button; if you hear the phrase "OnStar ready" you're in business!  If you need to add more minutes to your OnStar hands free calling do so; it's much better to use your OnStar hands free calling rather than using your cell phone while driving.  In fact, in several states (including California) hands free is not an option - it's the law.

Also be sure that your SunPass is topped off as needed.  Having a SunPass gets you through Florida's toll roads much quicker (and you can save some money in the process too!) and if you are driving toll roads in South Florida as well as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway here in Tampa you need a SunPass - no cash is collected as these toll roads are all open road tolling.

Get a good night's rest - you will need it!

2.  Allow plenty of time to get to your destination safely.  Everything will more than likely be crowded no matter which way you get to Grandma's:  Interstate 275, Southwest Airlines (or your airline), or Amtrak.

3.  If you're traveling via Southwest Airlines (or any other airline), be sure to get to the airport early.  That way, you can get checked in especially if you have baggage to check and clear security in order to get to your gate.  Be sure to check in for your flight 24 hours in advance of your flight's departure (by the way, if you have Early Bird Check In on Southwest, this is done for you - all you got to do is print your boarding pass either at home or at the airport).

Airport parking - especially parking at Tampa International Airport - will more than likely be at a premium thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays.  If at all possible, take a taxi or SuperShuttle or have a friend drive you to the airport.

4.  If you're traveling via Amtrak out of Tampa Union Station, be sure to arrive early.  If you have already printed your eTicket from the Amtrak website and you have no baggage to check, simply show your eTicket to the conductor for scanning and you're all set!  However, if you have baggage to check be sure to arrive in plenty of time so that the station agent can check in your items.

Like Tampa International Airport, parking at Tampa Union Station will more than likely be at a premium due to the Thanksgiving holidays.  You might want to take a taxi or have a friend drive you to the train station.

5.  While you are out and about on the road, in the event of an accident give the Florida Highway Patrol a call at *FHP (*347) on your cell phone.  However, in the event of an accident involving serious injury always call 911!  By the way, *FHP can also be used in case your car breaks down on the highway; a Road Ranger will be dispatched to your location.

On Interstate 275 north of Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) and south of US 19 (Exit 5) as well as Interstate 75 there are motorist aid call boxes on either side of the highway.  If you need assistance and you are near one of these call boxes simply lift the handle and press the button for the service needed; after pressing the buttion return to your car and wait for assistance to arrive.

If you happen to own a car that is equipped with OnStar and you have a breakdown, simply press the blue OnStar button and an OnStar representative will send out assistance to where you're located.  In the event of an accident, press the red OnStar emergency button and a specially trained OnStar representative will send emergency help to where you're located.

If it's a long road trip to Grandma's, consider taking a break for every three or four hours of driving.  Feel free to stop at a rest area, a welcome center (particularly if you crossed into another state such as Georgia), a service plaza (like that on the Florida Turnpike), an interstate interchange oasis (such as what you will find on Interstate 75 at Exit 329, which is FL 44 to Wildwood) or even a small town if it's close by.

6.  While we're on the same topic of being out and about on the road, if you see an impaired or aggressive driver please call *FHP (if life or property is in immediate danger, call 911).  After all, the Florida Highway Patrol wants to know and FHP will send a Trooper out to apprehend the driver, hopefully before there is a serious accident.

Stay within the speed limit - after all, there's nothing to be gained by going faster than the flow of traffic.

Be mindful of Florida's Move Over Law:  If you see emergency vehicles on the side of the road, move over and give these workers room.

Most importantly, don't drink and drive!  Remember:  Over the limit = under arrest!

7.  If you have a Florida driver's license, did you know that you can update your emergency contact information?  This enables law enforcement officers to notify your loved ones in the event you are in a serious accident.  What are you waiting for?  Enter your emergency contact information today!

8.  Pay attention to the gigantic green overhead signs mounted over the highway, especially if you are on Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay region.  Pay special attention to the word "Left" in black letters on a yellow background:  This means that the exit you are approaching is a left exit and you must be in the left lane to exit the highway.

The exit to Howard and Armenia Avenues (Exit 42) on southbound Interstate 275 are temporary left exits while construction is underway to widen Interstate 275 in the area.  As you travel through construction areas, be sure to pay attention to any temporary signage erected and reduce your speed.

Once you exit Interstate 275 or any other limited access highway, reduce your speed for the off ramp as well as the street you have exited onto.

9.  Helpful websites:  See what your exit looks like at your destination before you hit the road.

Tampa Bay Interstates:  Information from the Florida DOT on interstate construction in the Tampa Bay region.

Florida 511:  Information on interstate conditions not only from the Tampa Bay region but the rest of the State of Florida as well.

As Thanksgiving is the gateway to the holiday season, have a happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season!  Let's be careful out there on Interstate 275 and drive safely!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Traffic Pattern on Southbound I-275 in Tampa

By now most of you are getting used to the new traffic pattern on southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa as you leave downtown Tampa.  This is part of a major project that has just got underway that will transform Interstate 275 from downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough River to the FL 60/Tampa Airport exit (Exit 39).  The new northbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa that you have been driving on for quite some time now is a preview of what's to come; believe me, it will be a better improvement once it's all said and done.
First, let's start southbound on Interstate 275 coming out of downtown Tampa at the Armenia/Howard Avenue exit (Exit 42).  There used to be the long exit ramp that serviced both Armenia/Howard Avenues (Exit 42) as well as Himes Avenue (Exit 41C), but this long exit ramp - created from the former southbound lanes of Interstate 275 - is no more as the former southbound lanes is being demolished to make way for the new southbound lanes.
To exit southbound Interstate 275 at Exit 42, be in your left lane as the exit is now a left lane exit.  When you exit, you will encounter two traffic signals, one for Howard Avenue (northbound) and the other for Armenia Avenue (southbound).  Signage placed by the Florida DOT will assist you in getting where you need to go.
Going further south, to exit southbound Interstate 275 at Exit 41C (Himes Avenue) you will still continue to exit from the right lane as you did before.  However, you will remain on the Interstate 275 mainline until you reach the exit for Himes Avenue; the exit is clearly marked.
As always, please allow for extra time when you travel through the construction zones and obey all posted speed limits, as speeding fines are doubled in construction zones as well as school zones.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, as with any major Interstate 275 project, this is going to mean delays, road closures and detours as needed, but the end result will be a better, wider and safer Interstate 275 that we can use.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

One widening project done, another major project getting underway

If you have been on Interstate 275 lately in north Tampa from Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) to the northern terminus at Interstate 75 (Exit 274), you will notice that the highway has been widened from the original four lanes from that section's early days as the original Interstate 75 to six lanes.  This will have Interstate 275 through the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area generally six lanes with some four lane exceptions in certain spots, such as at Interstate 175 (Exit 22) in downtown St. Petersburg.  From 54 Av S/FL 682 (Exit 17) south across the Sunshine Skyway to the southern terminus at Interstate 75 (Exit 228), Interstate 275 will remain at four lanes.

You can thank rapid growth in the Wesley Chapel area despite the economic downturn for why Interstate 275 had to be widened.  More and more people live a great distance from major employment centers such as downtown Tampa (and downtown St. Petersburg too) and for most people, a commute to work on Interstate 275 is a necessity.  Remember too that our region still has inept mass transit which makes owning a car a must in our area.

Now that the section of Interstate 275 in north Tampa has been widened, another major Interstate 275 construction project has begun as I have seen the erection of large construction signage including the signage warning motorists that speeding fines are doubled in construction zones.  This is the section of Interstate 275 in Tampa from just south of the Ashley/Tampa/Scott Street exit (Exit 44) across the Hillsborough River to FL 60 and the exit for Tampa International Airport (Exit 39).

To give you an example, you have more than likely rode on the new northbound section of Interstate 275 from Himes Avenue (Exit 41C) to downtown Tampa while southbound traffic on Interstate 275 rides on the old northbound lanes.  What basically will happen over the course of a few years is that the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 will be reconstructed on a new alignment in the same manner as the existing new section of Interstate 275 stands.  The southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa will be reconstructed basically on the site of the old southbound lanes and will look similar to the new northbound section of Interstate 275 that is currently in use.

The Tampa Bay Interstates site has more information on lane closures and detours that may be necessary as the project progresses.  According to the Tampa Bay Interstates site, construction is scheduled to be completed in the Summer of 2016.  As with any major Interstate 275 project, this is going to mean delays, road closures and detours as needed, but the end result will be a better, wider and safer Interstate 275 that we can use.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Be careful in adverse weather!

Friday, 5 October 2012.  It was a beautiful day on Interstate 75 at the University Parkway exit.  After all, University Parkway forms the county boundary between Manatee and Sarasota counties, separating Bradenton from Sarasota.

Until the rain moved in.

A mixture of rain plus fast moving traffic on southbound Interstate 75 made for a dangerous cocktail:  A 47-vehicle pileup closing Interstate 75's southbound lanes for several hours.  Traffic was backed up as motorists had to exit Interstate 75 at University Parkway and re-enter Interstate 75 there.

Area hospitals went on trauma alert, expecting mass casualties.  When a hospital goes on trauma alert, it reminds me of the scenes on TV's ER, especially the part where Dr. Kerry Weaver (played by one of my favorite actresses, Laura Innes) rallies up the troops at Cook County General Hospital in Chicago.  Luckily, in the Interstate 75 pileup no casualties were reported but according to Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times, 52 people were injured with 22 people transported to area hospitals.

I left a comment at the St. Petersburg Times article giving some safety tips when you encounter adverse weather on the Tampa Bay region's interstate highways including Interstate 275, and I would like to share them with you now that we are about to climb out of the summer afternoon thundershower season and slowly transition into the fall and winter cold front season where we have plenty of rainy weather as one of the cold fronts passes through our area.  In fact, the Florida Highway Patrol trooper that was interviewed on Bay News 9 gave some great advice that you should follow when you encounter adverse weather out there on our highways.

70 mph (or the speed limit applicable in the area, such as most sections of Interstate 275 posted for 65 mph) is not always 70 mph. When you encounter adverse weather, driving conditions change in a heartbeat.

If you encounter adverse weather conditions, especially on Interstates 75, 275 or 4, slow your vehicle down. Turn on your low beam headlights and your wipers. A good rule of thumb: When the wipers come on, so does your low beam headlights.  You must keep your vehicle under control at all times, especially during adverse weather conditions.

Don't put your emergency flashers on when you are moving in the rain. Emergency flashers are meant for when your vehicle is disabled and off to the shoulder, not for when you are moving on the highway in the rain. Besides, someone can rear end you and it is against the law.

On a side note, I have seen a good number of motorists out there on Interstate 275 that use their emergency flashers when moving in the rain.  All you need is your wipers and your low beam headlights (when you turn on your low beam headlights, your rear taillights come on as well); the use of parking lights, daytime running lamps as well as the use of your emergency flashers don't comply with Section 316.217 and Section 316.2397 of the Florida Statutes.

If you have a recent model year car, chances are that your car is equipped with daytime running lamps that enable you to be seen during the day.  Some cars even have a sensor that turns on the headlights for you when it gets dark.  Evern if your car has that automatic headlight sensor, it is very important to know where your headlight switch is so that you can turn on your low beam headlights whenever you encounter adverse weather such as heavy rain or fog.

And one more thing: Don't be in a hurry to get where you are going, especially when the weather gets bad. It's better to be a few minutes late than several hours in the hospital ER, or worse. Also, if the weather deteriorates to the point where you can't see, get off the interstate at the next exit and pull into a parking area (such as a gas station or convenience store) and wait until conditions are better. 
And I forgot one more thing that you should do as a motorist when you encounter adverse weather on Interstate 275 or any other highway elsewhere:  Put down that cell phone, iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid or any communications device and give driving your 150 percent attention, especially during adverse weather conditions.  That all too important phone call, business transaction or text message can wait until you arrive safely at your destination.
On a side note regarding cell phone use and driving, while Florida has no law on that subject (and our legislators in Tallahassee need to stop being so lazy and enact such a law) California has a comprehensive law that bans the use of any communications device while behind the wheel.  I recently got back from a trip to San Diego over the Labor Day weekend and I was reminded of the provisions of the no cell phone use law while driving per the California Vehicle Code when I went to pick up my rental car.
Let's be careful out there on Interstate 275 as well as the other major highways in the Tampa Bay region, especially when you encounter adverse weather.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Have you noticed something new before 4 St N (Exit 32)?

If you have been on southbound Interstate 275 coming into St. Petersburg from Tampa lately, you may have noticed a new structure that has been erected on the right hand side just before you reach the 4 St N exit (Exit 32). What is that structure being erected just north of the 4 St N exit?

That structure is an entry monument welcoming everyone to the City of St. Petersburg. The monument is similar to the downtown St. Petersburg entry monuments located on the eastern terminuses of both downtown feeders, Interstate 375 and 175.

The entry monument was proposed for the location north of the 4 St N exit for many years from what I understand. Unfortunately, there were no monies in the budget for the City of St. Petersburg to erect this important entry monument; however, a prominent St. Petersburg businessman, Bill Edwards (whose company, Big 3 Entertainment, operates the City owned Mahaffey Theater), stepped up to the plate and donated money for the entry monument's construction.

Here's a picture of what it looks like:

The new entry monument on southbound Interstate 275 just before 4 St N (Exit 32) does indeed put the City of St. Petersburg's best foot forward in welcoming our visitors to our city. After all, first impressions last a lifetime!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Charlotte and San Diego have it. Why can't Tampa?

I came across this interesting article in the St. Petersburg Times while I was enjoying Labor Day weekend in the San Diego area. This is about how Charlotte's light rail plays an important role when a major convention such as the 2012 Democratic National Convention is in town.

Here is a link to the article: Light rail helps Charlotte avoid Tampa's bus woes.

I have also contributed a comment on this article which I would like to share with you:

The article about Charlotte's light rail and its role during the Democratic National Convention says it all. We are ashamed to be one of the major metropolitan areas in the United States that does not have a comprehensive transit system including light rail and commuter rail. If we tried to put our best foot forward for the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, we certainly did not.

The lack of a comprehensive mass transit system including light rail and commuter rail is one of the many reasons why large companies will not relocate their major operations to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The RNC delegates, especially those that rode chartered buses to and from the Times Forum, got to experience what our way of life is when it comes to getting around our region.

If we want to be competitive with other metropolitan areas such as Charlotte or San Diego, then we need to seriously revamp our transit system completely. Simply adding 20 lanes to Interstate 275 is not enough - it's like adding 30 lanes to both Interstates 5 and 8 in San Diego and that does not do the trick.

Bottom line here: If the Tampa/St. Petersburg region wants to succeed and thrive, especially if and when the economy recovers, then we need a comprehensive mass transit system including light rail and commuter rail. Not 20 years. Not 10 years. Not even five years. Our region needs light rail and commuter rail now! Besides, if we decide to proceed with building a light rail and commuter rail system it would provide jobs to those who are unemployed.

By the way, if we did construct a light rail and commuter rail system in our region with a line going down the middle of the Howard Frankland Bridge, then we should impose tolls on the Howard Frankland for one reason: Get commuters out of their cars and onto the train to work. (After all, the people of Singapore use their Metro as a means to get to work: Commuting by car is expensive due to variable tolling during the work day called Electronic Road Pricing, among other things).

Yes, it is very true. Charlotte has their light rail system. San Diego has their MTS light rail system (you can even ride on San Diego's trolley south to San Ysidro and walk across the Mexican border into Tijuana!) and Coaster commuter rail system, with a connection to Los Angeles' Metrolink commuter rail system in Oceanside plus frequent Amtrak service between San Diego and Los Angeles. (Compare this to Tampa's twice a day service by Amtrak's Silver Star, southbound to Miami and northbound to Jacksonville, Washington and New York). Miami/Ft. Lauderdale has Tri-Rail serving three counties of South Florida plus Miami's Metrorail. And Orlando is about ready to have commuter rail of its own in a few years, SunRail.

But as far as the Tampa/St. Petersburg region is concerned, we are the laughing stock, not to mention the sore thumb, of the United States as far as rail based mass transit is concerned. No matter why more and more people are stuck in traffic every morning trying to get to work and vice versa in the afternoon.

Yes we can widen Interstate 275 to 20 lanes to accommodate the increased traffic. Yes we can widen other roads such as Gandy Blvd., Dale Mabry Highway and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. to keep up. But land needed to widen roads is at a premium, and with real estate prices making a slow comeback these days land will definitely be at a premium, forcing the Florida DOT and officials from Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties plus our outlying counties to have to look at alternatives, including rail based solutions such as light rail and commuter rail.

As I mentioned in the comment I made to the St. Petersburg Times article I mentioned earlier, a rail based mass transit system would make things attractive for major companies that want to relocate their headquarters to our region. A major company that relocates their headquarters into our region means an economic boost for us. Furthermore, I am ashamed that our visiting delegates for the 2012 Republican National Convention had to experience first hand at our region's inept transit system.

On a side note, for those so-called "Tea Party" members that think rail does not work in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region and that commuting to and from work by car is the norm, think again. Try buying a home or condo in the New Tampa area of Tampa (Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and Interstate 75) and commuting to work in not downtown Tampa, but downtown St. Petersburg - yes, downtown St. Petersburg (or even Carillon for that matter):

1. Your commute to work will be at least 20 minutes long, if not longer. You will be stuck in Interstate 275 traffic trying to get to work on time.

2. You'll be paying a lot for gas every week. Does the prospect of $4.00/gallon gas scare you? (I was in San Diego over this past Labor Day weekend - $4.30/gallon on average).

3. You will pay a lot more in automobile insurance. When you get an auto insurance quote, you are asked how many miles is your commute one way. The more miles you commute to work one way, the more you will pay for automobile insurance.

4. You will pay more often for needed automobile maintenance such as oil changes, etc.

5. Your work-life balance will more than likely be disrupted. You can't enjoy quality time with your family, especially on the weekends.

6. You will be paying a good sum every month for parking in one of the parking garages in downtown St. Petersburg. An average of $60 per month is the norm from what I understand. Try to budget this if you commute a long distance to your clerical job in downtown St. Petersburg from your New Tampa home. Or New Tampa condo. Or whatever.

Charlotte - the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention - has it. San Diego has it. Why can't Tampa/St. Petersburg have rail based mass transit?

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Republican National Convention is coming!

We're a little more than a week before the 2012 Republican National Convention that is taking place over at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa. While the convention is expected to provide a boost for our region's economy, it is expected to bring a mess as far as getting around the Tampa/St. Petersburg area the week of the convention is concerned.

First, here is the press release that has been issued by the United States Secret Service on the security restrictions and transportation plan during convention week, which is from 26 August 2012 to 30 August 2012. The press release covers a great deal of information you will need to know as far as getting around the Tampa/St. Petersburg area is concerned. As far as getting around on our region's major highways including Interstate 275, I am going to touch on the highlights of the security restrictions that will be in place.

While the bulk of the convention will take place over at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, there will be a reception party being held on Sunday, 26 August 2012 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Again, this will mean security related closures and detours.

St. Petersburg:

If you are going to the Rays game at Tropicana Field on Saturday, 25 August 2012 against the Oakland A's, please be aware that you will not be allowed to park on the street that day due to the security restrictions in place. If you park on Tropicana Field property for the game, be advised that you will have 90 minutes after the last pitch is thrown to remove your vehicle from the Tropicana Field parking lot. As such, there is a special game time of 1:10 PM rather than the usual 7:10 PM game time which is the standard on Saturday games.

Interstate 175 - the southern feeder into downtown St. Petersburg - will be closed to all traffic the afternoon of 26 August 2012 due to the Republican National Convention reception party taking place. If you need to access downtown St. Petersburg during that time, use Interstate 375, the northern feeder into downtown St. Petersburg.

If you need to get to Bayfront Medical Center or All Children's Hospital during the time Interstate 175 is closed, the recommended route is Interstate 375 to 4 St N, then south on 4 St N (crossing Central Avenue) to 6 Av S. Right on 6 Av S to 6 St S; Bayfront will be on your left as you cross 6 St S while All Children's will be on your right before you get to 6 St S.


Tampa International Airport will be open during convention week. If you are headed out of town that week and you're flying out of TIA, be sure to check with your airline for any information that may affect your flight. Expect crowds as you pass through the terminal.

Interstate 275 as it passes by downtown Tampa at the Ashley Street exit (Exit 44) will be open. Expect delays in this area during convention week.

The Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway will be closed between Willow Avenue and 50th Street (US 41) during convention week. However, the upper reversible lanes that provide access to downtown Tampa from Brandon and vice versa will remain open on their regular traffic flow schedule. DETOUR: Use Interstate 275 to Interstate 4 to pass through the area if you regularly use the Selmon Crosstown; again expect delays in the area.

Numerous street closures and temporary traffic patterns in the downtown Tampa area - the press release issued by the United States Secret Service has more details on what you need to know.

Amtrak will be running their regular Silver Star schedules, Train 91 southbound to Ft. Lauderdale and Miami and Train 92 northbound to Orlando, Jacksonville and further north to Washington, DC as well as Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. As Tampa Union Station is located in close proximity to the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa, allow for plenty of time to get to the Amtrak station and expect delays when transiting through downtown Tampa during convention week and be sure to check train status, which can be done at the Amtrak website.

Other important information you need to know for Republican National Convention week:

If you do not have to be in downtown St. Petersburg on Sunday, 26 August 2012 in the vicinity of Tropicana Field, avoid the area on that day.

If you do not have to take care of any business in downtown Tampa the week of the Republican National Convention, avoid the area that week. Due to the enhanced security in place, a number of businesses in the downtown Tampa area will either be curtailing their operations or closing for that week; if you defnintely need to go somewhere in downtown Tampa on convention week call ahead to be sure that where you need to go will be open. If it can wait, do so.

Finally, extends a warm welcome to the delegates coming to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for the 2012 Republican National Convention. You will enjoy everything that the Tampa/St. Petersburg area has to offer: Miles of great beaches, sports teams including baseball's Tampa Bay Rays and football's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fine arts opportunities at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, The Straz Performing Arts Center in Tampa and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, many attractions such as Busch Gardens in Tampa and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater (the home of Winter the Dolphin and where the movie Dolphin Tale was filmed), and I can't forget the region's majestic scenic attraction: The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the 191-foot high cable stayed bridge connecting St. Petersburg with Bradenton and points south. And much, much more!

The excitement starts the moment you step off your flight and ascend the jetway into Tampa International Airport! You may also want to review my handy tips for travelers flying into Tampa International Airport; it has plenty of information that you need to make your stay in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area a memorable one.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunshine Skyway Bridge closures due to dangerous weather

With Tropical Storm Debby bouncing out there in the Gulf of Mexico, it is wreaking havoc in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area as far as high winds and flooding are concerned.

All from a tropical storm sitting out there in the Gulf of Mexico close to Florida. Remember Hurricane Elena over Labor Day weekend in 1985?

Now is a good time to let you know what criteria is used in deciding to close the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather. On the main span of the Sunshine Skyway are wind speed detectors which send a wind speed report to the Florida Highway Patrol's Tampa Bay Regional Communications Center. It is the personnel in the communications center that make a recommendation to FHP troopers whether to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather. Moreover, the FHP troopers out there patrolling the Sunshine Skyway also keep a close eye on weather conditions including how windy it is out there on the main span.

When wind speeds hover close to 40 mph (60 km/h) FHP troopers keep a close eye on conditions on the Sunshine Skyway, including activating the yellow flashing lights that warn motorists entering the bridge of high winds. Once the winds get sustained above 40 mph, FHP troopers will order the Sunshine Skyway closed.

Once the order to close the Sunshine Skyway is given, FHP troopers will direct motorists off of Interstate 275, southbound in St. Petersburg at Pinellas Point Drive South (Exit 16) and northbound in Palmetto/Ellenton at both US 41 (Exit 2) and on US 19 north at the last turn before toll at Exit 5 (that is the northbound entrance to Interstate 275 from US 19). Additionally, the closure order is passed on to the Florida DOT so that the electronic variable message signs found on Interstate 275 as well as Interstates 75 and 4 are updated with closure information advising motorists to seek alternative routes.

After all, closures of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to dangerous weather are not taken very lightly. If in the event the Florida Highway Patrol has to close the Sunshine Skyway due to dangerous weather, it is for one good reason: Your safety. After all, no one - including me - wants to be out there on the Sunshine Skyway's 191-foot high main span during dangerous weather.

Be safe out there!

Friday, June 8, 2012

SunPass to be accepted outside of Florida soon

The SunPass. That little electronic gadget that attaches inside on your front windshield using the suction cups attached. It's that little gadget that pays your tolls in Florida!

When you cross the Sunshine Skyway or use any of the toll facilities in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area (such as the Veterans Expressway, Suncoast Parkway, the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway or the Pinellas Bayway) or elsewhere such as the Florida's Turnpike you probably know by now how SunPass is so convenient: No need to stop for the toll booth, especially when it's raining as in Florida's summer thundershowers that happen usually in the afternoon.

For us Floridians that like the convenience of SunPass not only to pay for your tolls and for your airport parking at select airports throughout the state including Tampa International Airport, you are probably asking yourself this same question regarding convenience if you take a trip to any of the 14 states in the northeast United States that have a similar electronic toll collection system called EZ-Pass. Right now if you wanted to pay your tolls electronically using EZ-Pass you had to get an EZ-Pass transponder from one of the member states in the EZ-Pass Consortium (such as EZ-Pass Maryland, for instance) and fund an account similar to your SunPass account back home in Florida.

Good news: Soon you will be able to use your Florida SunPass outside of the State of Florida. According to this article on the coming interoperability of SunPass with other toll agencies outside the Sunshine State I found on ABC Action News (WFTS-TV Channel 28, the ABC affiliate here in Tampa), within months the equipment will be upgraded to allow for interoperability of SunPass with the 14 states in the northeastern United States that belong to EZ-Pass.

What does this mean for you:

You will be able to use your SunPass when you travel on toll roads and bridges that are part of the 14-state EZ-Pass Consortium. Imagine in Maryland, you take a ride on the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore and you pay for your tolls using your trusty SunPass from Florida. Talk about convenience!

What does this mean for our seasonal visitors that come south to the Sunshine State for winter:

You got lots of places to use your EZ-Pass. Soon you will be able to use your EZ-Pass from your home state on the Sunshine Skyway when you come on down to Florida for the winter season. Talk about simplicity - no separate toll account to open and maintain when you come south.

In the meantime, you may want to check the SunPass web site or the EZ-Pass web site for the state that issued your EZ-Pass for updates on when both systems become interoperable. But once SunPass and EZ-Pass are interoperable it will mean convenience for you.

Now there's another value to your SunPass. Now if only SunPass would achieve interoperability not only with EZ-Pass but with California's FasTrak as well.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tolls on the Howard Frankland Bridge?

Here's a disturbing article I found at the St. Petersburg Times a couple of days ago: Howard Frankland Bridge may see tolls.

You got that right. Tolls on an interstate highway, which are usually prohibited by the federal government save for a few highways that were grandfathered in before the creation of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. Want proof that there are tolls on an interstate highway today? Look no further than Interstate 95 in Miami from the Florida Turnpike/Golden Glades Interchange to Interstate 395: There are express lanes that are tolled and the tolls are variable depending on the time of day.

In fact, the Florida DOT is considering the tolled lanes on Interstate 95 in Miami idea on Interstate 275 in Tampa as well as Interstate 4: Tolled express lanes.

Why impose tolls on the Howard Frankland Bridge? Here is a comment on the St. Petersburg Times article that I posted:

Here's how I would look at the Howard Frankland Bridge becoming a toll facility like the Sunshine Skyway:

1. The original 1960 northbound span is nearing the end of its useful service life. It needs to be replaced using current standards along with a third span for future commuter rail.

The Sunshine Skyway was built in 1954, two years before the Interstate Highway System was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956. When Interstate 275 was made a part of the Sunshine Skyway, the tolls were allowed to exist as the Sunshine Skyway was built long before Interstate 275 and the tolls were allowed to be grandfathered. Besides, the tolls were going to help pay off the bonds from the original 1954/1971 construction and the current 1987 bridge.

Bridges built in this era - such as the original Sunshine Skyway in 1954 and its southbound twin in 1971, the westbound Gandy Bridge in 1956 and the original Howard Frankland Bridge in 1960 - were allowed to be built so close to the water. If there is any justification as to why you can't build a bridge so close to the water, look at the 1956 Gandy Bridge today - which was used as the Friendship Trail until it had to be closed due to major corrosion which would lead to failure of the structure - the highly corrosive environment being salt water going over Tampa Bay is why it costs way too much to even repair the structure.

The 1991 Howard Frankland Bridge southbound span was built much higher, especially on the low level trestle span and using fewer trestle piers of the hammerhead type rather than a series of bent pilings driven into the bay bottom.

2. $500 million is a lot of money to raise. With gas prices at $4/gallon which equals less driving plus the fuel efficient car, it is difficult to raise money from the gas tax alone. As such, tolls need to be considered.

Where else are we going to get $500 million? Property taxes? With declining home values and the present anti-tax increase sentiment, that's out of the question.

3. If and when the Tampa/St. Petersburg area gets commuter rail, tolls imposed on the Howard Frankland (and possibly Gandy and/or Courtney Campbell) will get more and more people to seek other transportation alternatives. For comparison, Singapore - half a world away from Tampa - uses what is called Electronic Road Pricing which amounts to a congestion charge, designed to get more and more commuters to use mass transit.

To me, I believe tolls should not be imposed on the Howard Frankland Bridge unless Tampa/St. Petersburg commuters have a choice that is workable, not with the inept mass transit system we have now.

Have I mentioned improved mass transit for the Tampa/St. Petersburg area? From what I understand, a replacement of the Howard Frankland Bridge original 1960 northbound span would also entail a bridge that would carry commuter rail across Tampa Bay, using a very gentle slope for where the center hump is located much like the high level railroad bridge over the New River in Ft. Lauderdale that carries Tri-Rail traffic across.

Granted, the Tampa/St. Petersburg area needs better mass transit now using commuter rail as the base, not the inept and uncoordinated service provided by PSTA in Pinellas County and HARTline in Hillsborough County. TBARTA - the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority - needs to morph from just an advisory agency to an agency that would be responsible for the Tampa/St. Petersburg region's transit needs. Even if it takes the merger of PSTA and HARTline to accomplish this objective, it would make the Tampa/St. Petersburg region an attractive place to work and live.

So, I have a suggestion for TBARTA and the Florida DOT: Build the necessary improvements including a commuter rail line using the Howard Frankland Bridge when the time comes to replace the structure. After we get the commuter rail up and running, then begin charging tolls on the Howard Frankland Bridge for those that still want to drive the long commutes to and from work such as someone that lives in New Tampa and works in St. Petersburg.

It all boils down to one word: Choices. We Tampa/St. Petersburg residents deserve a choice when it comes to transportation needs, and commuter rail should be one of them. We can expand Interstate 275 to 20 lanes in either direction or build a replacement Howard Frankland Bridge with better capacity but that won't do much good.

And if we were to impose tolls on the Howard Frankland Bridge now, it would spell an economic disaster for our region. If the Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Tampa is extended along its own path to the eastern entrance of the Gandy Bridge, and Gandy Blvd. is used for its westward extension to St. Petersburg and Interstate 275's Exit 28, then the Gandy Bridge would become a toll bridge integrated with the Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Mix two bridges between Tampa and St. Petersburg that are now free with tolls and the lack of trasportation choices in our region and you got a recipe for economic disaster.

Again, it all boils down to one word: Choices. (Emphasis mine)

Sunday, March 11, 2012 Revamped

If you were having some difficulty logging on to for some time Sunday evening (11 March 2012), it's because I just uploaded several revisions to the Interstate 275 Florida website for your reading pleasure! After all, with all the construction taking place at any given moment out there on Interstate 275 in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, I try to make the changes as time permits.

Here are the highlights of the additions and changes I have made:

On the northern terminus page, I have changed out the pictures for the exit onto FL 56. Originally the Florida DOT designated this exit as Interstate 75's Exit 275 but as I reported in an earlier post the potential for motorist confusion existed. So, on go the overlays (also known as FDOT Green-Out, akin to the white-out that you use when you need to correct something on paper; white-out sure beats the old fashioned Liquid Paper these days!) and Exit 275 (FL 56) has been redesignated as Exit 59 for northbound Interstate 275.

Let's head over the Howard Frankland Bridge to St. Petersburg and I have noticed that the Exit Only panels on northbound Interstate 275 at 54 Av N (Exit 26) were getting unreadable. What does the Florida DOT do to correct this despite the tough budget times that the State of Florida is in? Place a yellow overlay with the words "Exit Only" in wider FHWA Highway Gothic font over the existing sign! The folks over at the Florida DOT District 7 camp on McKinley Drive in Tampa (located south of the University of South Florida's main Tampa Campus on Fowler Avenue) like to come up with creative ways to extend the life of a highway sign to get more mileage out of the signage for many years.

OK. Let's zip back on the Howard Frankland Bridge through downtown Tampa over to Fowler Avenue (Exit 51). A project is underway to make two right turn lanes for traffic coming from northbound Interstate 275; this should provide some relief for motorists headed to destinations east of Interstate 275 on Fowler Avenue, particularly the University of South Florida so that students can get to classes on time.

Let's do a U-turn underneath the overpass at Fowler Avenue and head back south on Interstate 275 towards the world's finest airport, Tampa International Airport. As you have noticed, the airport interchange has undergone a major transformation from the short ramps that were built in the early 1970's to the major, if not better, ramps that were built. So, I have added a section of pictures that reflect the newly built ramps of the airport interchange reconstruction project and I have left up the ramps that were built in the early 1970's before construction began so that you can get a good perspective of before and after.

I am also announcing a new feature here on As you probably have noticed already, gas prices are topping over the $4.00/gallon mark with no end in sight. Naturally, I can't help tame these high gas prices but I can show you where you can find the cheapest gas out there. As such, I have teamed up with - part of - to provide you with where you can find the cheapest gas prices in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to the Gas Prices page today!

So, there you have it: Changes and additions to to help keep up with the construction going on. Keep checking back here at frequently and often - in fact, put in your browser's bookmarks so that you can refer to it frequently and often.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Be careful if that friendly motorist motions you to go!

That friendly motorist motioning you to go could be the motorist who deliberately runs into you and causes an accident! By taking that friendly motorist's offer of letting you go so that you can be somewhere on time, you are setting yourself up to be a victim of staged auto accident fraud.

I have recently wrote a blog entry on the subject of staged auto accident fraud over at my other blog, The Edward Ringwald Blog. With staged auto accident fraud in the news and the fact that the Tampa/St. Petersburg area is Florida's staged auto accident capital, I have seen many instances where I myself have been motioned to go by another motorist even though I did not have the right of way. God knows who that motorist could be - either just being friendly or friendly in disguise as in setting you up for an accident.

I thought I would like to share this with our Interstate 275 Florida Blog readers, particularly in the light of recent legislation passed by the Florida Legislature on Personal Injury Protection (PIP) reform. After all, the State of Florida requires you and I as motor vehicle owners to carry the mandatory $10,000 PIP insurance; unfortunately, PIP as we know it is ripe with fraud as PIP is easy access to money without the need for costly litigation in the courts. Among the reforms that were recently passed is that insurance companies have the right to examine a policyholder under oath if fraud is suspected.

So what are you waiting for? For the full story, simply click on this link. Enjoy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to Survive in a High Gas Prices World

I know, it's been a while since I posted here on the Interstate 275 Florida Blog.

First of all, I got some good news for those of you that use Gandy Blvd. and the Gandy Bridge as an alternative to the Howard Frankland Bridge, especially during the morning and evening rush hour or when there is a major incident on the Howard Frankland resulting in authorities advising motorists to use Gandy to or from St. Petersburg. According to an email from the City of St. Petersburg that I receive weekly called Foster's Weekly Forecast, improvements to Gandy Blvd. from 16 St N to 4 St N will soon take place which will transform the at grade intersections of Gandy Blvd. at 16 St N, Martin Luther King St N and 4 St N from the at grade intersections as they are now to overpasses - and believe me, these overpasses are much needed! Work is supposed to begin in September 2012, according to the folks over at the Florida DOT.

Could this be the start of a project to eventually upgrade Gandy Blvd. to a limited access highway with frontage roads providing access to Gandy Blvd. businesses and a direct straight through connection to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway? Unfortunately, improvements on the Tampa side have run into plenty of NIMBY-ism but this connection is desperately needed especially to help with hurricane evacuation; remember the major backup on the Howard Frankland when Hurricane Charley almost hit Tampa/St. Petersburg in 2004?

OK. Now on to our main topic.

As you have more than likely seen everywhere you turn in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, you have seen gas prices climbing steadily up with no end in sight. As of 3/2/12 prices for gas are closing in on the $4.00/gallon mark and the news media - whose purpose is to make you scared - is claiming that we may see $5.00/gallon or more.

In fact, most other Florida cities are seeing already over $4.00/gallon. Same thing throughout the rest of the United States from what I heard. Believe me, that's not good news. For me, I thank goodness that I traded in my mid-size car that featured a monster-size gas tank for the economy and savings of an economy car.

We can survive these high gas prices while our economy is in a downturn. So, let me offer you some tips to get the most gas mileage for your dollar. These are tips I got from the Federal Government’s fuel economy web site,

1. Use motor oil that is recommended for your engine. What is recommended varies from car to car, you may want to check your vehicle owner's manual.

By the way, make sure that you have your oil changed at whatever your vehicle manufacturer recommends; this is usually 3,000 miles in most conditions. Be sure when you have your car's oil changed that you go to a reputable service place.

2. Check and replace your air filter regularly - a clogged air filter can reduce mileage by 10%.

3. Keep engine properly tuned - poorly tuned engine can cost 4%, a faulty oxygen sensor as much as 40%.

4. Keep tires properly inflated; fuel mileage decreases 0.4% for every pound tires are under-inflated.

5. Avoid all aggressive driving; rapid acceleration and rapid braking lower your mileage by 5% to 30%. Besides, leaving earlier so that you can safely get to your destination if you have to be somewhere at a specific time helps!

6. Reduce your speed; at highway speeds, every 5 mph you drive over 60 mph increase your fuel cost by 8%. It pays to stay within the speed limit; you’ll save time and money not only on gasoline but speeding fines as well. Did I say speeding fines? They are more - if not a lot more - than your car loan payment.

7. Remove any extra weight from your vehicle; an extra 100 pounds can reduce mileage by 2%.

8. Avoid excessive idling. When at idle you are getting 0 miles per gallon - think about it. It is a misconception that it takes more gasoline to restart than you save by turning it off.

9. If your vehicle can use regular fuel, use it. Don’t spend the extra premium for premium fuel if you don’t need it.

10. Plan your trips in advance; try to use interstate highways such as Interstate 275 in the Tampa Bay area wherever possible. That way, you can minimize your wait at traffic signals and not waste gasoline by idling while waiting for the traffic light. And you won't have to worry much about red light cameras!

11. Consider using public transit if it’s available in your area. Think of the gas you would save every week. Employers may have an incentive program for you using public transit to and from work; check with your employer.

With the high gas prices we are now experiencing with no relief in sight, the high gas price situation should be a wake-up call on a more serious note to the leaders of the Tampa/St. Petersburg region as well as people who sit in traffic all day getting to and from work over considerable distances: Rail based mass transit is desperately needed if the Tampa/St. Petersburg region wants to survive if and when the economy begins to recover. Sure we can build a 20-lane Interstate 275 in Tampa but that's not going to do any good. Sure we can add more buses or add dedicated bus lanes but that's not going to to any good; after all, buses share the same roadway that we motorists do.

Perhaps the voters of Hillsborough County who voted against a commuter rail system a year or two ago will more than likely change their mind once gas prices climb to a level that people will have to end up moving closer to their workplace to help minimize the commute wherever possible. Unfortunately, with the housing market at its lowest level it might be hard: Either sell your home and move to a location closer to work or find another job closer to home.

None of us can control the price of fuel but we can all work towards reducing the amount of fuel we use to help our personal budgets. Ask yourself, especially if you or your family is planning a vacation: Would you rather drive the 200+ miles on Interstate 75 from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale or take Amtrak or Southwest Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale from Tampa and back? Just a thought.