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Much has changed near interstate's interchange

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Contrary to all rumor that you might have heard, Jessie and I did not run away from home. We were assigned to some other things for a while, and they kept us away. Now we're back and scrambling to catch up.

The good-hearted state roadies have gone a long way toward eliminating one of our least favorite Eyeball Jigglers. It has existed literally for years on the ramp from eastbound Interstate 175 to Sixth Street S in the extreme left lane.

It began as a huge dollop of asphalt, no doubt dropped off an asphalt truck headed toward a noble repaving project somewhere. A fast acceleration from the traffic light, and this truck laid more than rubber.

An average-sized car could straddle the dollop and avoid the jaw-crunching jolt of running over it, but if you didn't know it was there or didn't pay attention, THWUMP (this being a very technical highway engineering term).

When last we wrote about this EJW, it had developed a giant pothole in the middle of it. So it had become this elongated, misshapen, tire-bending donut of misplaced asphalt.

It's much better now. The roadies reamed out the hole and put a new surface of asphalt over most of the dollop. It looks kind of funny, but we ran over it on purpose recently, putting ourselves at great personal risk just to find out if it feels smoother now.

It does.

Thank you, state roadies.

* * *

Now we have two mysteries to clear up.

After an extensive and thorough investigation, we discovered that the two mysteries actually are separate phases of the same story.

In sorting it all out, we'll start to the north and work our way south.

The state roadies and Jessie have been inundated with irate mail from motorists who use Interstate 375 to access I-275 southbound from downtown St. Petersburg.

In a previous life, the single lane that routes I-375 traffic onto I-275 became an interstate through lane, no merging required. Just settle in to your spot and keep on truckin' south.

Now, however, without warning, the striping has been changed, and the aforementioned former through lane has become a merge lane which joins existing interstate traffic. Lots of folks thought they were doomed, in part because they weren't expecting the traffic pattern change. Near-collisions abounded.

Making matters worse was the fact that this new merge lane was much too short. Not only did the merge requirement surprise motorists, they didn't have much time or space to execute the move.

Now the state roadies have restriped again, to make the merge lane a couple of hundred feet longer. That helps a lot. But there's still no warning that the merge is coming.

"The biggest problem we're having is people driving it for the first time and being surprised," said John McShaffrey, spokesman for the interstate branch of the roadie department. "People will get used to it because it's the same as a lot of other entry mergers on the interstate. But it does need better signage warning people what's ahead, and we'll have it installed very soon."

Why, you might well ask, did the roadies fix what wasn't broken?

It was done to help repair what we always considered the most dangerous place on I-275 in Pinellas County, the next intersection south, where I-175 traffic splits off from through traffic. But that's the next story.

* * *

Ever since the new signs went up along the approach to the I-175 exit, we've been hearing from people that the signs were wrong. There are two of them. Both show that the spot where I-175 and I-275 divide is three lanes wide. The left lane goes left, the right lane goes right, and the center lane splits in both directions.

But that wasn't true. The road was four lanes wide, with two lanes going left and two going right and no split lanes anywhere.

That setup was horridly confusing. Cars and trucks swerved all over the the place, especially those with drivers unfamiliar with the road. People who wanted to go south toward Bradenton found themselves hopelessly bound for downtown St. Petersburg instead.

Little did we know, the signs merely forecast what was going to happen. That stretch of interstate has now been restriped to three lanes, and, indeed, the center lane splits, going in both directions.

It's a huge improvement, both for safety and peace of mind.

Again, it's going to take some getting used to, but some temporary confusion is worth it.

* * *

Here is a scary fact that isn't particularly surprising: Seat belt use among high school students is lower than among other occupants of passenger vehicles. Here's the scary part that is surprising. Even when the adults who are driving are using seat belts, often the kids are not.

This information comes to us from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The group surveyed vehicles bringing teenagers to high schools in the morning and found that in less than half the vehicles -- 46 percent -- were both adults and kids buckled up.

In 23 percent of the vehicles, nobody was buckled up.

In another 23 percent, the adults were buckled up, the teenagers were not.

And in 8 percent of the vehicles, the teenagers were buckled in and the adults were not.

Where, we are forced to ask ourselves once again, are standards?

* * *

And in a related item, here is Dr. Delay's Terrible Traffic Tidbit of the Week:

According to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 60 percent of passengers killed in motor vehicle crashes last year were not using any form of restraint. This is identical to the findings for 2000.

Which proves we're not getting any smarter, and some of us are dying to prove it.

-- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at docdelay@sptimes.com, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg 33701.

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