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.