Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why does our commute in the Tampa Bay region get longer and longer?

I recently came across an article in the St. Petersburg Times, written by staff writer Michael Van Sickler, about why we Tampa Bay region residents are mired in our cars while other metropolitan areas (such as Miami and Orlando) have rail based commuting alternatives.  I wrote a reply to this article via the No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page on Facebook and I would like to share it with you.

After all, we need to fix the Tampa Bay region's traffic and transit woes in order to be competitive with Miami and Orlando.  The obvious solution is rail based mass transit, not the Florida DOT's proposed Tampa Bay Express (TBX) for Interstate 275.

Sad but true.

Why do the anti-rail activists such as Sharon Calvert advocate more roads and more congestion instead of providing a more logical solution for getting around the Tampa Bay region? Why build a 20 lane version of Interstate 275 in order to accommodate TBX?

Let's put it this way:

1. It is impossible for one to find a home close to work. Case in point: Downtown St. Petersburg has a residential downtown; unfortunately, for most people living in Downtown St. Petersburg - especially to be close to a Downtown St. Petersburg employer in particular - is financially out of reach.

2. With transit in the Tampa Bay region is spotty as it is now, the commuter is forced to rely on his or her own motor vehicle in order to commute to and from work. With living close to work out of the question, it means at least a 30 minute commute to work, if not longer.

3. The longer your commute to work, the more you pay in auto insurance. Case in point: Let's say you live in New Tampa and you commute to work in Downtown St. Petersburg. Yes, Downtown St. Petersburg. From New Tampa you have to make your way south on congested Interstate 75 over to doubly congested westbound Interstate 4 in order to get to southbound Interstate 275. And yes, you got to get through Malfunction Junction and the Howard Frankland Bridge. Once you are over the Howard Frankland into Pinellas County, you still got a ways to go before you reach the office in Downtown St. Petersburg. That said, how many miles from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg is your commute?

When you call around or go online for an auto insurance quote, one of the questions you are asked is this: How many miles is your commute, one way, to work daily? Give the agent the one way distance from New Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg and you will more likely get a high rate quote.

4. Don't forget, there is wear and tear on your vehicle for every day you commute to and from work. Factor in gasoline and maintenance costs. We are enjoying low gas prices right now, but wait until gas prices get back into the upper $3 to the lower $4 a gallon range.

5. More and more employers in the Tampa Bay region end up losing valuable employee talent due to long commutes to and from work plus the lack of reliable mass transit. This cuts into an employer's bottom line as once an employee quits, the employer has to hire and train a replacement employee which takes a considerable amount of time.

6. There are people out there for one reason or another do not want to own a vehicle due to the high costs of insurance and maintenance, not to mention the car loan payments you make every month if you finance your car purchase. Unfortunately, in the Tampa Bay region this is not an option due to the lack of a robust rail-based mass transit system.

7. More and more people are having to move from the Tampa Bay region to metropolitan areas which already have rail-based mass transit systems in place such as Miami/Ft. Lauderdale or Orlando as examples. With rail based mass transit it's as simple as getting on at the nearest commuter rail station and riding the train in to work downtown - no overly congested highways to worry about.

The need to fix the Tampa Bay region's congestion woes is clearly obvious: The Tampa Bay region needs commuter and light rail based mass transit. We do not need a 20 lane Interstate 275 and we definitely do not need those so-called "Lexus Lanes" such as TBX. And certainly the Tampa Bay region does not need to become another Detroit!

And we the residents of the Tampa Bay region deserve better choices when it comes to getting around.  Better choices for transit mean a better economy for the Tampa Bay region.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back to School!

Back to school is fast approaching!  Just around the corner, you will be seeing those familiar yellow school buses and those school zones that will be a part of the Tampa Bay region commute.

For the majority of the Tampa Bay region, the 2015-2016 school year starts on Monday, 24 August 2015 for Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Manatee Counties.  The only exception is Hillsborough County which starts school on Tuesday, 25 August 2015.  Citrus County has already begun the 2015-2016 school year on Monday, 10 August 2015.

Now do you know what you need to do as a driver when you see a school bus.  You're on your way to work, and the school bus ahead of you slows down and then the yellow flashers come on first and then the red flashers along with the stop signs that extend from the school bus.  What do you do when you are faced with a stopped school bus?

If you are on a two lane road, traffic in both directions must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.

If you are on a four or more lane road and the center is paved, such as a continuous left turn lane, traffic in both directions must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.

However, if you are on a four or more lane road and the center is unpaved for at least five feet or if there is a physical barrier such as a Jersey barrier wall between the opposing roadways, only traffic traveling in the same direction as the school bus must come to a complete stop.  Remain in place until the school bus driver has turned off the red signals and retracted the stop signs.  Traffic going the opposite direction of the school bus need not stop, but reduced speed is called for as children may be around in the area where the school bus stops.

As our children make their way back to school for the new school year, please resist the urge to pass a stopped school bus especially if you are in a hurry to be somewhere such as work.  Passing a stopped school bus can cost you a $271.00 ticket and if you pass a stopped school bus on the side where children get on or off, it becomes a mandatory court appearance which can result in a much larger fine.

Now if you are driving near a school, more than likely the 15 mph school zone will be in effect with the yellow blinkers flashing.  If you encounter an active school zone, reduce your speed to 15 mph and do not go any faster until you reach the end school zone sign.  In addition, be sure to obey any signals from the on duty school crossing guard.  Remember, speeding fines are doubled for school zones starting at 1 mph over the school zone speed limit (starting at $156.00 in Pinellas County), so don't think about trying to be in a hurry to be somewhere.

So, if we know the basics of what you need to do when you see a school bus or if you drive near a school zone and see the school zone activated, we can get the 2015-2016 school year off to a great start for our children!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Driving in Adverse Weather Conditions

With the recent rains and street flooding that is affecting the Tampa Bay region, here are some safety reminders for when you are out and about in this weather:

1.  Most importantly, if you do not have to be somewhere, stay where you are.  However, if evacuation orders due to flooding are issued, please comply with the instructions of local authorities in your area.

2.  If you have to be out and about, please be careful out there.  If you encounter any flooded street, do not attempt to drive through it - the water depth is unknown and you can stall out in flood waters.  Instead, turn around and find an alternate route.  Just ask motorists who try to traverse Dale Mabry Highway at Henderson Blvd. in Tampa during heavy rains!

3.  When you are out there on Interstate 275 or any other highway in the Tampa Bay region, if you encounter any rain it's low beam headlights and wipers time, not emergency flashers time.  First, Florida law requires your low beam headlights on when it is raining.  Second, hazard emergency flashers especially when you are moving is not only dangerous (someone can rear end you not knowing that you are slowed down), it is illegal by Florida law as well.

4.  If it gets to the point that you cannot see ahead of you, simply pull into a public place such as a gas station or a convenience store and wait it out until the rain slows down.

5.  Give driving your 100 percent attention, especially during adverse weather.  That important phone call or text message can wait until you have safely arrived at your destination.

6.  If your travel plans include the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, be aware that the Florida Highway Patrol can close the bridge in the event winds on the top of the main span exceed 40 mph.  A check of the variable message signage on Interstate 275 as you approach the Sunshine Skyway or with Florida 511 is highly recommended.

Just follow these recommendations for when you go out and about in adverse weather including the adverse weather that is impacting the Tampa Bay region and you're good to go!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reflections on the Sunshine Skyway Tragedy 35 Years Ago

9 May.

In 1921 Sophie Scholl, the principal force behind the White Rose movement in Germany during World War II, was born.

In 1955 West Germany joins NATO.

In 1974, The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee begins formal impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in the Watergate Scandal.

In 1980:

Slovenia was not an independent nation yet – it was still a constituent republic of Yugoslavia, which was mourning the death of its longtime leader Josip Broz Tito earlier on 4 May 1980.

The Cuban boatlift was still going on, with refugees pouring in to the United States on boats coming out of Mariel Harbor.

Meanwhile, in the mouth of Tampa Bay, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was a classic twin cantilever span ready for yet another day.  Another day of motorists driving across the bridge (and having to dread the steel grid deck) to get where they want to go.  Another day of ships coming into and out of the Port of Tampa.  Besides, being a Friday it’s the end of another work and school week.

The time:  5:43 AM.  The date:  Friday, 9 May 1980.  The place:  The shipping channel between Egmont Key and Ft. DeSoto Park.

When ships come into or out of the Port of Tampa, they have to be guided in or out by a harbor pilot so that these ships can be safely navigated through Tampa Bay and into the Port of Tampa.  Back then, there was a major obstacle:  The old Sunshine Skyway Bridge with its 864-foot center span, which was long enough for ships of the 1950’s.  Aboard a pilot boat out of Egmont Key, harbor pilot John Lerro reported to duty aboard a vessel that came inbound from Houston a few days earlier; that vessel is the Summit Venture, a 606-foot freighter coming in to Tampa to take on a load of phosphate for somewhere in a distant part of the world.

Everything seems OK, until a severe thunderstorm arrives sometime after 7 AM.  Visibility was reduced to zero and that John Lerro concerned.  Would he miss the critical turn at Buoys 1A and 2A to avoid the Sunshine Skyway’s tall channel piers?  After all, when you are on Interstate 275 and visibility drops to near zero, you take any and all measures to prevent a collision such as exiting the highway and waiting somewhere until the rain lets up.

Then, at 7:38 AM on Friday, 9 May 1980, Interstate 275 Florida history would change forever, as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned.

The rains kept raging on preventing any visibility whatsoever.  Then – out of nowhere – the Summit Venture was on a collision course with the southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and its Support Pier 2-S, the anchor pier just south of the main channel Pier 1-S that anchors the south cantilever and provides the transition from through truss to deck truss.  John Lerro, the harbor pilot, tries everything to stop the ship from colliding with the bridge including reversing the engines and dropping the anchor.

Then impact.

Compare the impact to a soda can as it related to a compact car.  The compact car has more mass than the soda can.  Therefore, upon impact the soda can is crushed by the mass of the compact car.  The same thing with the Summit Venture upon impact with Pier 2-S:  After all, Pier 2-S was not designed for impact from a large vessel and, upon impact, Pier 2-S was sheared off its supports like a heavy sword.

Upon loss of support by Pier 2-S, the impact started a chain of events which would result in the deck truss from Pier 3-S northward plus the through truss from Pier 2-S to the point north of Pier 1-S (the main channel pier to the south of the shipping channel) collapsing into the churning waters of Tampa Bay below, including the south anchor arm and cantilever arm.  This left behind the suspended center span which was being held up by the north cantilever arm and anchor arm but the northern arm could not take the load of the suspended center span on its own.  The suspended center span fell into Tampa Bay as well.

In the end, thirty five people lost their lives that fateful morning including a few on a Greyhound bus headed for Miami.  There were only two survivors:  Richard Hornbuckle, who managed to stop his Buick Skylark a mere 14 inches from the abyss on the northern arm and Wesley McIntire, who drove off the broken end of the southbound span and survived by swimming to the top and being rescued by the Summit Venture crew.


I was going to a private high school on the day the Sunshine Skyway fell, and I was getting ready for school that morning.  Back in 1980, we did not have Bay News 9 yet (in fact, my house did not have cable service yet – just an outdoor antenna receiving Channels 8, 10 or 13).  Instead, I had a little AM radio tuned to WSUN-AM 620 listening to music while I was getting ready for school.  Suddenly, Ronald J. Evin, the news director for WSUN at the time, came on with a special bulletin:  A ship was ready to hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Well, I thought, it was probably another boat that would bump into the fender system and the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span would still be there.  Or as I thought.

Once at school the TV was on and tuned to WTVT Channel 13, which was a CBS affiliate at the time.  (Remember the programming that used to be there from a long time ago when WTVT was a CBS affiliate?  WTVT became a FOX affiliate in the Great Tampa Bay Television Affiliate Switch of 1994 and WTVT has been a FOX Owned and Operated station since.)  Once I saw the pictures for the first time I was totally shocked:  The southbound span of the Sunshine Skyway was gone.  I could not believe it!

Two days later, when the northbound span was converted to handle two way traffic my mother, grandmother and I took a Sunday ride to check out the damage:  A southbound span that was damaged beyond imagination, and a tall channel pier that stood out from the rest of the mail channel piers on the Sunshine Skyway – Pier 1-S – which would stand out as an icon of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge for the next several years.  Everyone else was checking it out too.

Besides, my mother was doing the driving – I haven’t received my driver’s license yet.  The car I had was a 1974 Ford Mustang II and all it had was just an AM radio – no AM/FM/CD like you see in today’s cars and SUV’s.  In fact, no entertainment center where you can listen to AM, FM, XM Satellite Radio or your own MP3 music on a flash drive.  The radio was fixed onto WSUN AM 620 just like my little radio at home.

35 years later, things have changed over the years since the Sunshine Skyway tragedy.

First of all, I graduated from high school in 1983 and I had to write a senior year thesis.  The subject?  The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, from building to collapse.

In 1981, there were decisions that had to be made as far as the Sunshine Skyway is concerned.  Rebuild the cantilever bridge or replace it with a new bridge?  Florida Governor Bob Graham made the decision that would change the signature of the Tampa Bay region forever:  A new, cable-stayed four lane Sunshine Skyway Bridge that met interstate highway standards.  After all, Interstate 275 was built all the way to Queensboro Av S in south St. Petersburg with another section getting underway which would extend the highway to 39 Av S with interchanges at 22 Av S (Exit 19) and 26 Av S (Exit 18) and the ultimate goal was to connect Interstate 275 with the newly extended Interstate 75 to Naples and Miami.  Besides, the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge did not meet interstate standards.

Construction on the new Sunshine Skyway began in 1982.  On 30 April 1987, five years after construction started, the new Sunshine Skyway Bridge opened to traffic.    

Right after the new Sunshine Skyway opened both the old and new Sunshine Skyway bridges would stand next to each other.  In 1991 the old Sunshine Skyway – both northbound and southbound spans including all the main channel piers including Pier 1-S, the channel pier that stood out after the Sunshine Skyway tragedy – was demolished.  What was left of the northbound and southbound spans were converted into fishing piers as they are today.

When I wrote a similar blog entry five years ago in 2010 I paid a visit on Sunday, 9 May 2010 to the fishing pier on the northern end of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  The center section including its signature main channel piers is long gone, but as I was standing at the end of the fishing pier I began to realize the bridge that used to be from its beginnings in 1954 as a single span and the second span in 1971 to the collapse in 1980 and what happened afterward.  I took a look around the fishing pier and bait shop and all I found was nothing more than a little poster put up by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection – the department responsible for Florida’s state parks and recreation areas including the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers – that told of the tragedy that took place on 9 May 1980.

Here’s a comment I left over at the St. Petersburg Times website discussing where people were when the Sunshine Skyway collapsed:

I have heard that there is some kind of memorial being put up at the fishing pier to remember the people whose lives were cut short by what happened. Perhaps a memorial - maybe a small obelisk structure consisting of a replica of the two tall channel piers (on the southbound span, the north channel pier - Pier 1N - had the identical look to their 1954 counterparts while the south channel pier - Pier 1S - had a different architectural look after repairs were made in 1969) - should be constructed as a memorial to the old Sunshine Skyway as well as the 35 people that perished that frightful morning. Besides, we remember people that we lost with monuments and memorials, especially World War II.

There’s already a memorial to the US Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, which sunk just west of the old Sunshine Skyway in January 1980 after colliding with an oil tanker.  I think the State of Florida ought to consider a memorial at the fishing pier of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge, built with private donations, as a reminder of the tragedy that happened that fateful morning of Friday, 9 May 1980 and afterward as well as triumph with the construction of the new bridge.

Well, fast forward five years to 2015.  Saturday, 9 May 2015 to be exact.  A memorial to the Sunshine Skyway tragedy would become reality thanks to a private individual.

Bill DeYoung wrote an excellent book of the true story of the Tampa Bay region’s signature bridge and of the events that led up to the tragedy at the Sunshine Skyway’s southbound span on 9 May 1980.  Bill’s book expertly documents the Sunshine Skyway from when it was built in 1954 and the twin southbound span in 1971 until tragedy struck that fateful Friday morning in May 1980.

At the same time the book was being promoted, there was strong interest for a memorial dedicated to the 35 people that lost their lives on 9 May 1980.  A donation drive ensued, and with the blessing of the State of Florida to allow a monument to be constructed at the North Skyway Rest Area a memorial dedicated to the memory of the 35 people that lost their lives on the Sunshine Skyway that fateful morning became reality.

That memorial was dedicated at a public ceremony on Saturday, 9 May 2015.  I paid a visit to the newly erected memorial later in the afternoon and I would say that it is a very beautiful and respectful memorial.

Now there are two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area:  One is the memorial to the USCGC Blackthorn which sank in Tampa Bay when it collided with the tanker Capricorn on 28 January 1980, and the other memorial of course is the memorial to the thirty five persons that lost their lives when the Sunshine Skyway was hit by the Summit Venture on Friday, 9 May 1980 at 7:38 AM.  Both memorials are part of the North Skyway Rest Area and are open 24 hours a day; simply take the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area from Interstate 275 and follow the signs for the rest area.  Once in the rest area both memorials are on the left; the Skyway memorial is the first memorial just before you approach the rest area building and the Blackthorn memorial is the second memorial across the drive from the rest area building.  There is ample parking provided in the rest area and nighttime security is provided for peace of mind.

I highly recommend Bill DeYoung’s book, and you can purchase it from Amazon in either traditional hard copy format or in electronic Amazon Kindle format which you can read on practically any device such as your desktop or laptop computer, iPhone, iPad, Android – you name it.  This book is the Sunshine Skyway tragedy well researched and done.

With two memorials in the North Skyway Rest Area, perhaps the Florida DOT should update the signage on the Interstate 275 mainline just before the exit for the North Skyway Rest Area.  Presently the signage is just for the Blackthorn memorial.

In respect to the thirty five people who perished that fateful morning on Friday, 9 May 1980, here is a closeup picture of the newly dedicated monument with the names of the thirty five people who perished that day - The Day The Skyway Fell (click on the photo to enlarge):

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Got a SunPass Transponder? You need to read this!

Ah, the trusty and reliable SunPass transponder.  You use it to pay for your tolls, not only on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but on all toll facilities in the Tampa Bay region including the all-electronic Selmon Crosstown Expressway as well as the Veterans Expressway (which has recently converted to all-electronic toll collection) and the Suncoast Parkway.  In fact, you can use that same SunPass on most toll roads and bridges throughout the State of Florida including, of course, Florida's Turnpike.

If you still have the battery operated SunPass transponder, this blog entry is for you!  According to a news release from Florida's Turnpike Enterprise - the Florida DOT entity that operates most of Florida's toll roads and bridges - your battery operated SunPass will no longer work after 31 December 2015.  What do you do?

You should have received either an email or a postcard from SunPass letting you know that you will need to swap out your battery operated transponder for a new non-battery operated transponder.  The email or postcard will have on it a replacement code - you will need it when you request your replacement SunPass transponder, so don't lose it!

If in the event you lose your email or postcard, or if you still have a SunPass battery operated transponder and you have not received the email or postcard from SunPass, you might want to give SunPass a call at 1 (855) TAG-SWAP (that's 1 (855) 824-7927) and explain your situation.

When you go to select your replacement transponder, you will have two choices:

1.  The SunPass slim transponder:  This transponder attaches to the inside of your windshield by way of built in suction cups similar to the SunPass hard case transponder you may have.  This transponder is portable meaning you can move it from car to car; this is helpful if you rent a car in Florida so that you can charge your tolls to your SunPass account instead of paying extra to your car rental agency for tolls incurred.  I highly recommend the SunPass slim portable transponder.

2.  The SunPass mini transponder:  This transponder is the stick on type where you stick it on the inside of your windshield.  The only major drawback of the SunPass mini is that it is not portable and once you take the transponder off your windshield your SunPass will no longer work.

Simply pick the SunPass transponder that will suit your needs.  Complete the information requested at the SunPass Tag Swap site and you should have your replacement transponder in no time!

Before you go onto the SunPass Tag Swap site be sure to log in to your SunPass account over at the regular SunPass website and check to see that SunPass has your current address.  If you need to update your address now's a great time to do so.

Again, if you have a battery operated SunPass transponder you will need to swap it out soon for a non-battery operated SunPass transponder!  The battery operated SunPass transponders will no longer work after 31 December 2015! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Exit Numbering Changes on Interstate 275 in Tampa

By now you are getting used to the new southbound lanes on Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to Exit 39 (FL 60 to Tampa International Airport as well as Clearwater).  The good news is that all the exits are now from the right lane as opposed to the temporary left lane exits.

With the new southbound lanes of Interstate 275 open come a couple of exit numbering changes for Dale Mabry Highway (US 92) and Himes Avenue, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT's Tampa Bay Region interstate construction page.  Here's what the exits used to be before the reconstruction project began:

Northbound Interstate 275:

Exit 41A - Dale Mabry Highway southbound
Exit 41B - Dale Mabry Highway northbound

Southbound Interstate 275:

Exit 41C - Himes Avenue
Exit 41B - Dale Mabry Highway northbound
Exit 41A - Dale Mabry Highway southbound

Now with the circular ramps from Interstate 275 to Dale Mabry Highway gone, this changes the makeup of the Dale Mabry/Himes interchange complex on Interstate 275.  That said, here's the exits in the new format:

Northbound Interstate 275:

Exit 41A - Dale Mabry Highway

Southbound Interstate 275:

Exit 41B - Himes Avenue
Exit 41A - Dale Mabry Highway

So, in order to exit Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway, you will use the ramp at Exit 41A to proceed in either direction on Dale Mabry Highway.  Himes Avenue - which used to be Exit 41C but is now Exit 41B - is a northbound entrance and southbound exit ramp.

Dale Mabry Highway is also known as US 92, the cross Florida highway from St. Petersburg to Daytona Beach that parallels and predates Interstate 4.  While Dale Mabry Highway is a north-south road, US 92 is an east-west highway explained thus:

Dale Mabry Highway northbound - US 92 eastbound
Dale Mabry Highway southbound - US 92 westbound
We'll be also updating the Tampa pages with new pictures as soon as new signage is installed and lane configurations are in their permanent configurations.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More big changes coming to southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa!

Motorists, get ready for yet another big change on Interstate 275 southbound in Tampa!

If you have had the chance or if your travels take you on southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa south of downtown Tampa, you have seen the new southbound lanes take shape along with plenty of brand new signage.  Now a new construction milestone is on the horizon when southbound Interstate 275 traffic will get to use the new southbound lanes.

Another benefit of the new Interstate 275 southbound lanes is that all the exits - Howard/Armenia Avenues (Exit 42), Himes Avenue (Exit 41B), Dale Mabry Highway (Exit 41A), Lois Avenue (Exit 40B) and Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) - will be right lane exits instead of the temporary left lane exits we've been used to while the construction project is taking place.  No more having to go through temporary ramps to get to where you need to go.

Unfortunately, the switch over is going to mean some inconvenience and the switch over will be taking place during night time hours.  This will mean detours and traffic delays while the switch over takes place.

According to Tampa Bay Interstates, the switch over will take place on Friday evening, 27 March 2015 beginning at 11:30 PM and wrapped up by Saturday morning, 28 March 2015 at 5:30 AM.  This is subject to change due to weather conditions; if weather conditions make it unsafe to do the switch over it will be done the next night or a night when conditions are safe.

Now here's the detour when the switch over is taking place:

Expect to be detoured off of Interstate 275 southbound (this includes westbound Interstate 4 transitioning to southbound Interstate 275) at Exit 45A, which is Downtown East/West which will put you on either Jefferson Street or Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa.  Go south on either street to Kennedy Blvd., also known as FL 60.

Follow Kennedy Blvd. west across the Hillsborough River.  Kennedy Blvd. provides access to the southbound Interstate 275 exits that will be closed during the switch over:  Armenia/Howard Avenues, Himes Avenue, Dale Mabry Highway (US 92), Lois Avenue and Westshore Blvd.

Now if you are headed to Tampa International Airport or St. Petersburg, continue to head west on Kennedy Blvd.  To reach St. Petersburg you will take a left at the intersection where Kennedy Blvd. continues west to southbound Interstate 275.  To reach Tampa International Airport, continue straight (Kennedy Blvd. becomes Memorial Highway) and follow the signs.  Be sure to be in your right lane as you approach the Tampa International Airport entrance and watch for traffic coming from northbound Interstate 275 as you make the lane changes.

ALTERNATIVE DETOUR ROUTE FOR ST. PETERSBURG IF COMING FROM WESTBOUND INTERSTATE 4:  Take the Selmon Crosstown connector to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway (FL Toll 618), and follow the Selmon Crosstown westbound to its end at Gandy Blvd. (US 92).  West on Gandy Blvd. across the Gandy Bridge to St. Petersburg; continue west on Gandy Blvd. to Interstate 275 south.  Be aware of construction on Gandy Blvd. at 4 St N and Martin Luther King St N as there are temporary lane shifts in the area.

Be advised that the Selmon Crosstown is a toll road and tolls are collected via SunPass or toll-by-plate (no cash is accepted).  But believe me, it's worth the toll to get around the expected congestion when the detours on Interstate 275 are in effect.

When the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes open, be aware that the new right lane exits at Exits 41B, 41A and 40B are in close succession.  Plan accordingly and be in the right lane for your intended exit.

Hopefully all the construction on Interstate 275 south of downtown Tampa should be wrapped up in the latter part of 2016.  But when it's all said and done, you will have four lanes of travel in either direction and there will be space in the center median for what I hope someday will be the answer to the Tampa Bay region's transit needs:  Rail based mass transit in the form of commuter rail or light rail.  After all, Miami and Orlando already have rail based mass transit; the time has now come for Tampa to have rail based mass transit which will provide a much needed turbo-boost to the economy of the Tampa Bay region.  As I have mentioned previously, you can widen Interstate 275 to 20 lanes but you will still have traffic gridlock because of not so many transit choices.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Westshore Blvd exit (Exit 40A) closure alert

Since this is the first post of 2015, I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!  Hopefully you got to ring in the New Year happily and safely.

I noticed a variable message alert on the Interstate 275 variable message boards just lately and I noticed that the exit to Westshore Blvd. (Exit 40A) from southbound Interstate 275 is going to close on 8 January 2015 sometime between 12 Midnight and 5:30 AM and remain closed until May 2015, according to Tampa Bay Interstates, the Florida DOT's website for all interstate and highway construction in the Tampa Bay region.  This is necessary so that the new southbound Interstate 275 lanes can be constructed in this area and the ramp to Westshore Blvd. from southbound Interstate 275 can be constructed in its permanent configuration.  You have undoubtedly seen the work on the overpass on southbound Interstate 275 at Westshore Blvd. as it progresses, not to mention the temporary lane shifts necessitating a 45 mph speed limit as you pass through the area.

As the Westshore Blvd. exit is a highly used exit not only for commuters who work in any of the office complexes in Tampa's Westshore district but for anyone staying at any of the hotels in the vicinity of Westshore Blvd. and Interstate 275, not to mention Westshore Plaza including the AMC Theatres Westshore 14 to catch the latest and greatest movies there, if you use this exit on a frequent basis you need to read this as to how it will affect how you will get to destinations in Tampa's Westshore district.  I know, it's going to be an inconvenience for a little bit but you will see a much improved Interstate 275 in the end.

I have seen a lot of progress on the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in Tampa of lately.  I think the goal is to get these southbound lanes opened as soon as possible so that the contractor can get started on getting the northbound lanes constructed, especially in the area around the Dale Mabry Highway (Exits 41A/B, US 92) interchange.  (In fact, just recently I have seen backups into the northbound Interstate 275 mainline of motorists exiting northbound Interstate 275 at Dale Mabry Highway in order to get to Raymond James Stadium for events taking place there).

The detour for Westshore Blvd., according to Tampa Bay Interstates, is for motorists to take the right hand exit for both Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue, which is reached from a single exit location just before the left hand exit for Himes Avenue (Exit 41C).  Follow the signage in order to reach Lois Avenue; actually you will exit onto Cypress Street rather than Lois Avenue.  Once on Cypress Street proceed west on Cypress Street past Lois Avenue for about a half a mile to Westshore Blvd.

When the Westshore Blvd. exit from southbound Interstate 275 closes temporarily, please keep in mind the following exits from southbound Interstate 275 in Tampa from downtown Tampa to FL 60/Tampa International Airport that are open (this is subject to change as construction on Interstate 275 progresses):

Exit 42, Armenia/Howard Avenues (temporary left exit - use left lane)
Exits 41A-B and Exit 40B, Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue (via Cypress Street)
Exit 41C, Himes Avenue (temporary left exit - use left lane) 
Exit 39, FL 60 to Tampa International Airport, Clearwater and FL Toll 589/Veterans Expressway

If you miss Exits 41A-B (Dale Mabry/Lois via Cypress) and you do not want to have to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge to have to make a U-turn at Exit 32, 4 St N in St. Petersburg, use Exit 39 and you can go through Tampa International Airport (follow the signs for the terminal and airport exit). 

Overall, the entire maze of temporary lanes, 45 mph reduced speed limits and temporary lane shifts on Interstate 275 in Tampa between Kennedy Blvd. (Exit 39, FL 60) and downtown Tampa at the Hillsborough River should be history by sometime in 2016 when all is said and done.  We'll have not only a wider Interstate 275 to travel on, but wouldn't it be nice to see a commuter rail line in the center?  After all, Interstate 275 in Tampa is being reconstructed to accommodate a commuter rail line sometime in the future; after all, the Tampa Bay region needs commuter rail if it wants to be competitive with Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando which already have commuter rail systems.