Saturday, November 15, 2014

Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House We Go! Thanksgiving 2014 travel tips

Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House we Go!

Thanksgiving 2014 is just around the corner and a lot of you out there have travel plans in order to get to Grandma's, whether it may be by using Interstate 275 with your own vehicle, flying out of Tampa International Airport on Southwest Airlines (or your favorite airline) or taking Amtrak from Tampa's Union Station.  Hopefully you have managed to make it through the severe cold weather that is gripping much of the nation; however, we are lucky in Florida except for the cold snaps that come through.

Before we go further, we here at and the Interstate 275 Florida Blog - a part of the Edward Ringwald Websites Network - want to wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving as well as a joyous and happy Christmas holiday season.  After all, the Christmas holiday season beginning with the Thanksgiving holidays is my favorite time of year.

For those of you making your plans on how to get to Grandma's for Thanksgiving Day here are some helpful tips before you set out, whether it may be on Interstate 275, via Southwest Airlines (or your favorite airline) or via Amtrak:


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.

Also check your windshield washer fluid, especially if you are headed to areas experiencing high concentration of bugs and you have to constantly run the windshield washer.  In fact, keep a spare bottle of windshield washer fluid in your car and replenish every time you stop for gas - believe me, you will be glad you did!

Moreover, check your turn signals and brake lights too.  You want to make sure that everything is in working order; in fact, doing so will help you avoid being issued a defective equipment citation in the event you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer.

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

If you own any of the vehicles that has 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:  While connected to OnStar, from the main menu say "minutes" then "add".  To verify minutes on OnStar, from the main menu say "minutes" then "verify".  Or, you can log in to your OnStar account online and check your minutes.

Besides, 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 and now Florida with its no texting while driving law) hands free is not an option - it's the law.

Additionally, be sure that you have a good SunPass balance and replenish your SunPass account as needed.  This is very important as many toll roads in the Tampa Bay region including the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and the Veterans Expressway only accept SunPass or toll-by-plate.  The same thing goes for toll roads in South Florida including Miami.

By the way, if you are headed to Georgia or North Carolina your Florida SunPass will work in these states.  Another good reason why using SunPass is your best value when it comes to paying tolls!

Get a good night's rest - believe me, you will need plenty of it!  When you actually set out on the roads they will be crowded; allow plenty of time to get to your destination safely.

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.

If you are traveling outside Florida, most states have a number that you can reach the highway patrol or state police which is prominently posted as you cross over the state line into a new state.  In Georgia, you can reach the Georgia State Patrol at *GSP (*477). 
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.
Moreover, while we're on the same topic of being safe out and about on the road, if you see an impaired or aggressive or a wrong way 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 nor you will get to Grandma's quicker 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!
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.

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.

Please be mindful of the construction taking place on Interstate 275 in Tampa between the FL 60/Tampa Airport (Exit 39) and downtown Tampa (Exit 44) exits.  There have been lots of traffic pattern changes as work progress on the reconstruction of Interstate 275 between Exit 39 and Exit 44 in Tampa.
This cannot be over-emphasized enough:  Please observe the 45 mph speed limit on the section of Interstate 275 in Tampa that is under construction from FL 60/Kennedy Blvd. (Exit 39) to US 92/Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41) - temporary lanes and narrow lane widths, not to mention sharp turns in the highway as you traverse the construction work zone, is why the Florida DOT has a 45 mph speed limit on this stretch of Interstate 275 under construction.  In other words, it is 45 mph for a reason.  Resist the urge to go faster than the posted speed limit through the Interstate 275 construction zones; speeding fines are doubled and the Florida Highway Patrol enforces these speed limits to the letter.
Additionally, pay attention to the variable message signs that are posted everywhere on Interstate 275 as well as Interstates 75 and 4 and the toll roads in the Tampa Bay region.  These variable message signs convey valuable information such as travel times to exits ahead plus advance warning of accidents that are blocking the highway ahead of you.
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.


My advice to you is this:  Get to Tampa International Airport early, well before your flight.

Most airlines including Southwest Airlines allow you to check in early for your flight and receive your boarding pass, usually 24 hours before your scheduled flight.  If you have baggage to check getting there early will allow you to check your bags, clear security screening and be on your plane.  If you are on an international flight, be sure to abide by any check in deadlines that are posted by your airline.

If you are flying on Southwest Airlines and you purchased the Early Bird Check In option - well worth the extra fee in my opinion - the check in is handled for you.  All you have to do is to print your boarding pass either at home or at the airport.

Airport parking at Tampa International Airport will more than likely be at a premium throughout the Thanksgiving holidays, especially the day before Thanksgiving.  That being said, consider having a family member or a friend drive you to the airport or take a taxi cab or the SuperShuttle van.


My advice to you is this:  Get to Tampa Union Station early, well before train departure. 

This is important especially if you have baggage to check as there will more than likely be lines in the ticket office as the station agent has to check your baggage in.  If you have an eTicket, be sure to bring it with you or the station agent can print your eTicket for you when you get there.

While seating on board Amtrak's Silver Star (Trains 91 and 92) in coach class is reserved, it is important that you get there early if you want a good seat.  If you have a coach seating preference, tell the service attendant as you board and more than likely you will get your preference; after all, the seat you are assigned by the service attendant will be your seat all the way to your destination.  This does not apply if you are seated in the sleeping car as your compartment is assigned to you way in advance.

Parking at Tampa Union Station will more than likely be at a premium especially during peak travel season such as the Thanksgiving holidays.  You might want to consider taking a taxi or have a friend drive you to Tampa Union Station.


If you are flying or taking Amtrak, be sure to have government issued photo identification at all times.  You may be asked for it on Amtrak, and you will be asked for it when you check in for your flight and when you clear airport security.  A driver license is good, but you can use a passport or passport card as ID when asked.

Now if you are driving, obviously you will need a driver's license as it is the law when you are driving a motor vehicle.  You will also need it if you are renting a car at your destination as a result of flying or taking the train.

Speaking of 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!

HELPFUL WEBSITES  See what your exit looks like at your destination in the Tampa Bay region 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.  You can also dial 511 from your cell phone or on OnStar to receive current highway conditions as well (just be sure to use hands free when driving).

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

Onward with Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday season!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Greenlight Pinellas: What St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay Region Needs!

On 4 November 2014 we go to the polls to elect who will be our next Governor of the State of Florida among other things.  However, if you live in Pinellas County, keep reading this blog as I want to speak with you about a referendum that will mean the difference as far as mass transit is concerned in Pinellas County as well as the Tampa Bay region as a whole.

That referendum is called Greenlight Pinellas.

Greenlight Pinellas is a referendum, if approved by the voters of Pinellas County on 4 November 2014, will pave the way for better and more enhanced bus service plus the implementation of light rail mass transit.  It would increase the county discretionary sales tax while at the same time it would eliminate the tax for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority from your property tax bill if you own a home in Pinellas County.

Now you're saying to yourself, "another tax?"  That answer is no, Greenlight Pinellas is not another tax.  Instead, Greenlight Pinellas shifts the tax from the homeowner to anyone who pays sales tax on most items we buy at the store.

OK.  By now you are saying to yourself that you are skeptical of another tax.  If you keep reading you will understand why Greenlight Pinellas is needed and the benefits for you Pinellas County residents, especially if you live on one side of Pinellas County and commute to work on the other side of Pinellas.

Let's say you live, say, in Palm Harbor.  You commute to your job daily in downtown St. Petersburg.  The current situation as it is now as far as transit in Pinellas County is concerned there is infrequent bus service, not to mention the fact that you have to change buses somewhere in order to reach your destination.

As transit in Pinellas County as well as the Tampa Bay region is iffy at best, most of us have to depend on our automobiles in order to commute to work daily.  However, there are people out there that cannot or do not have the financial resources to own an automobile which effectively shuts a lot of people out of plenty of employment opportunities.

Besides, owning an automobile is great as is allows you plenty of flexibility.  However, owning an automobile carries with it a lot of financial obligations:

1.  Gasoline for your automobile.  You and I know that we have to fill up at least once a week, if not more depending on how you use your automobile.  Then you have to take into consideration the rising and falling level of gasoline prices, similar to what a magician does when he or she performs the levitation illusion.  When was the last time Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region saw gas prices exceed $4.00 a gallon?

2.  Repairs and maintenance for your automobile.  Yes you got to keep the oil changed in your automobile and perform all the other maintenance tasks in order to keep your automobile in peak operating condition.  That can set you back a good sum of money depending on which maintenance procedure you need to perform, whether you take your automobile to the dealer or to the service facility of your choice.

3.  Insurance.  You and I know that insurance for your automobile is not an option - it is the law in Florida that you must carry insurance on your automobile.  The premium you pay for automobile insurance depends on a lot of factors, and one of them is how long is your commute to work one way daily.

For instance, let's say you live in the New Tampa area of Tampa off of Bruce B. Downs Blvd. and you commute to work in downtown St. Petersburg daily using Interstate 275.  That's a long commute to work!  As such, expect to pay a higher insurance premium compared to if your place of employment was just around the corner.

After all, we could think about living close to our places of employment but that would more than likely be prohibitively expensive depending on where you work.

4.  For those of you that work in downtown St. Petersburg, there is yet an additional expense for owning an automobile:  Parking in a downtown St. Petersburg parking garage or lot which sets you back quite a sum a month.  No matter why downtown St. Petersburg employers have trouble trying to hire and retain great talent:  Working in downtown St. Petersburg can get very expensive, especially on the small to medium salaries offered.

Speaking of commuting to work by using your personal automobile, more than likely you use at one point or another Interstate 275 to get to where you are going.  Unfortunately, you hit the heavy traffic that crawls to a snail's pace during the morning or evening commute.

One of the many reasons companies lose valuable team players:  The commute to and from work is too long, which seriously disrupts the work-life balance.

Of course we can widen Interstate 275 to, let's say twenty lanes.  Would that solve the problem?  Probably not.

Presently Interstate 275 is being widened and reconstructed in Tampa from Exit 39 (FL 60) to just west of Exit 44 (Ashley/Tampa/Scott Streets).  In fact, an important feature of the Interstate 275 reconstruction is a wide median so that a future commuter rail line could be built.

Which leads us to the Howard Frankland Bridge, connecting Pinellas with Hillsborough County.

Presently the original 1960 span - the span that initially carried two way traffic with two lanes in each direction, now the northbound span which was converted in 1991 when a four lane southbound span was opened - is almost at its end of service life.  From what I understand the plan is to replace the Howard Frankland northbound span with a new northbound span just to the south of where the current northbound span is now, and use the footprint of the current northbound span for a possible light and/or commuter rail line.

This is where a light rail line from Pinellas County could be routed to Tampa International Airport as well as downtown Tampa.  After all, light rail in Pinellas County is in the Greenlight Pinellas plan and adding that important connection to Tampa via Interstate 275 would be an asset.

Another aspect of why Interstate 275 could not be widened any further is the price of land.  After all, if land has to be acquired by the Florida DOT for an Interstate 275 project that adds to the cost of a project quite significantly, given today's slowly recovering real estate market.  Besides, land especially in Pinellas County is at a premium.

Of course rail based mass transit is the key.  You can build on rail based mass transit by adding better bus service as an enhancement to rail service.

Let's talk rail based mass transit for a moment.

Realize that Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and now Orlando have rail based commuter rail systems, Tri-Rail and SunRail respectively.  Tri-Rail was originally implemented as a temporary solution while Interstate 95 is being totally reconstructed.  Instead, Tri-Rail was kept and the people of Miami/Ft. Lauderdale now have better choices when it comes to mobility.

Unfortunately, Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region has practically no rail based mass transit, the only exceptions being either the TECO Street Car connecting Tampa's Ybor City entertainment district with downtown Tampa or the weekend excursions between Parrish and Willow provided by the Florida Railroad Museum in Manatee County.

If you want to experience rail travel without the expense of staying overnight somewhere, the Florida Railroad Museum has something for you every weekend with train rides at 11 AM and 2 PM Saturdays and Sundays.  Special themed events are also scheduled throughout the year.

And we can't forget Amtrak service into Tampa's Union Station twice daily, the southbound Silver Star (Train 91) to Miami and the northbound Silver Star (Train 92) to Orlando, Jacksonville, Washington D.C. and New York City.

Rail based mass transit - whether it may be light rail or commuter rail - is the choice of travel that we residents of Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region need.  Not only it would help take a good deal of traffic off the roads, it would also be friendly for the environment.  Instead of hopping in your car and traveling on Interstate 275 to work, simply head on over to the rail station and catch the train to work.  While on board, catch up on your morning news on your smartphone and sit back and enjoy the commute while someone else is doing the driving.

Back in 2012 over Labor Day weekend I took a trip to San Diego.  One day I took a ride on the light rail line connecting downtown San Diego with San Ysidro, which is right on the Mexican border and Tijuana is a stone's throw away as you get off the light rail.  When I was headed back to downtown San Diego to get my car I thought to myself, if San Diego can do this with their light rail solution between downtown San Diego and San Ysidro why can't St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have a system similar to San Diego's?

All of this will be possible if we pass Greenlight Pinellas on Tuesday, 4 November 2014.   Greenlight Pinellas will mean the difference as far as mass transit in Pinellas County is concerned.  It will also mean the difference as far as mass transit in the remainder of the Tampa Bay region is concerned:  If Greenlight Pinellas passes, it is more than likely that Hillsborough County will move forward with a similar plan.

So, what are you waiting for?

On Tuesday, 4 November 2014, do whatever it takes to simply head on over to your assigned polling place.  When you arrive present your photo/signature ID to the poll worker and you will be handed a ballot.  Take that ballot to a privacy booth or the ballot marking machine whichever you prefer.  After you complete that ballot, scan your ballot and that's all there is to it!

After all, Greenlight Pinellas is not only Pinellas County's future - it is the future of the Tampa Bay region if we want to be competitive.