Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back To School 2016

Back to school has just arrived!  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 2016-2017 school year began on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 for Citrus, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Manatee Counties.  The only exceptions are Pasco and Polk Counties which starts school on Monday, 15 August 2016.

Like I mentioned in a similar blog entry last year, 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 for a word on school zones.  You won't see them on Interstate 275, but chances are you will encounter them on the side streets as you make your way.

When 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.

Besides, the school bus and school zone fines are a lot more than your car loan payment.  Try to explain that to your auto lender if for some reason you cannot make your auto loan payment this month, the monies instead going to pay a school zone or school bus related traffic ticket!

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 2016-2017 school year off to a great start for our children!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What to do if the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is closed

Happy New Year!  (Even though we are a few weeks into 2016!)

Lately we have been having a good share of bad weather, sometimes it would get so bad that the Sunshine Skyway Bridge has to be closed due to high winds.  Let's say you are in St. Petersburg and you are headed south over the Sunshine Skyway to an event taking place at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish.  Perhaps Hole in the Head Gang Train Robbery?  Hobo Campfire Cookout?  Murder Mystery Express?  Day Out With Thomas?  Or a regular train ride?

OK.  Florida Railroad Museum tickets ordered and ready at will call?  Check!
Vehicle ready to go?  Check!

Now you got that covered, you find your way onto Interstate 275 south.  All that stands between you and the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish is the reliable Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the tremendous time saver between St. Petersburg and Bradenton since 1954.

You are about to pass the last exit before the Sunshine Skyway, which is Pinellas Point Drive South, Exit 16.  Uh-Oh!  Florida Highway Patrol troopers or St. Petersburg Police officers directing you to exit at Pinellas Point Drive South instead of continuing south onto the Sunshine Skyway.  The trooper or officer tells you that the Sunshine Skyway is closed due to high winds.

Bummer.  High winds.  What do you do if the Sunshine Skyway is closed?

If you are in St. Petersburg, you unfortunately have a 40-mile detour through Tampa via Interstate 75.  It will take a lot more time to get from St. Petersburg to Parrish and the Florida Railroad Museum, but you'll get there.

In order to bypass the temporary Sunshine Skyway closure due to high winds, you have two choices from St. Petersburg.  Both routes involve transit through Tampa.

1.  Follow Interstate 275 north over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Interstate 4 (Exit 45B).  Next, follow Interstate 4 east for a short distance to the Selmon Crosstown Expressway by way of the connector highway which will enable you to transition seamlessly from eastbound Interstate 4 to eastbound Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  Once on the Crosstown follow it east to Interstate 75 south, then follow Interstate 75 south.

2.  Follow Interstate 275 north but exit the highway at FL 694/Gandy Blvd. (Exit 28), then east across the Gandy Bridge into Tampa.  Enter the Selmon Crosstown Expressway and follow it for its entire length to Interstate 75 south.

Remember to keep your SunPass funded, as the Selmon Crosstown Expressway is a cashless toll facility.  Unlike the Sunshine Skyway, there are no toll booths on the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Now if you are headed in the opposite direction from Bradenton to St. Petersburg and the Sunshine Skyway is closed, it's very simple.  Simply reverse the directions as given above, just allow for extra time going through Tampa.

As I mentioned in a post from 2012, this is a great 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.

And if you have to be somewhere across the Sunshine Skyway such as an event at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, plan ahead.