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With exits and potholes, expect the unexpected

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

We have been laboring forever under the assumption that when there is a big yellow "Exit Only" sign over an interstate lane, it is a warning to motorists to haul their carcasses into some other lane if they want to stay on the highway.

We had come to expect "Exit Only" signs wherever occupancy of a particular lane committed us to leaving the interstate.

Well! How wrong we were.

This came up when our colleague, Toni Sandys, alerted us to the fact that the new signs for the I-375 spur off southbound I-275 no longer bear these colorful "Exit Only" warnings. The old signs did. Some drivers, unfamiliar with the road, are swerving out of the extreme left lane at the last minute when they realize that they are heading off in the wrong direction.

Being the intrepid investigative motorists that we are, Jessie and I set out to learn whatever in the world was going on.

We hounded John McShaffrey, maven of all interstate construction, who told us at first that he hadn't realized there were no "Exit Only" signs on the new directional boards. But he pledged to find out why.

And he did.

Herewith is the skinny:

"The removal of the "Exit Only' panels brought this signing series to current standards," John told us. "These warning panels are not required at freeway-to-freeway interchanges, where there is high-speed continuity from one route to another, versus exiting onto a ramp at a cross street requiring either a slow-speed "Yield' or "Stop' condition."

What we think John is telling us is that if you are leaving one high-speed road for another, the warnings aren't considered necessary, but if you are leaving the interstate on a ramp that ends in a stop or a yield, they are.

This, then, would be why there is not an "Exit Only" sign where I-375 leaves the main road, but there is one on southbound I-275 at 38th Avenue N and in the northbound lanes at 54th Avenue N, for example.

We confess that we don't understand this. Why is it less important for us to know that we are in an exit-only lane if that lane takes us to an interstate where we don't want to be, and more important to have this information if our lane leads us to a local road where we don't want to be?

The same question applies farther down I-275 at the I-175 spur. The extreme left lane there is a mandatory exit, too. But according to John, it never did have an "Exit Only" sign, even back when both left lanes committed you to the spur.

Our heads ache.

Interstate closure alert:

The ramp from northbound I-275 to westbound Roosevelt Boulevard will be closed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday. The eastbound Roosevelt ramp will remain open. And one lane of Roosevelt beneath the interstate will be closed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

The closures are related to the new interchange construction work and the extension of 118th Avenue.

Forget all the things you've heard about hurricane season.

This is pothole season.

It started with the summer rains a week ago and, if history holds, will continue at least into October.

Many potholes take shape when water seeps through cracks in the pavement and, for some reason, doesn't drain down into the earth beneath. It sloshes around in the nooks and crannies of road surface as cars roll over it and smash the pavement into itsy-bitsy pieces that the next rain can wash away.

This is likely what happened at the intersection of Ninth Avenue N and Tyrone Boulevard. Whatever struck there left an Eyeball Jiggler of the Week that has the diameter of a food platter and, we are quite certain, bottoms out somewhere just under the outskirts of Beijing.

When we checked it out, there were five cars ahead of us on westbound Ninth Avenue waiting to make the right turn onto Tyrone. The first four hit the hole with jolts that made us queasy. Sensing the problem, the car directly ahead of us made a high-quality avoidance move.

This is a real axle-breaker.

While we're on the general subject, beware of Stealth Potholes.

These are eyeball jigglers that fill up to the brim with rainwater so that you can't distinguish them from mere puddles until you hit them.

Stealth Potholes are particularly difficult to see in low light, which is what we normally have during thunderstorms.

Every summer storm will create more of these hazards, so be careful.

Another word of warning:

There is a huge project under way on 22nd Avenue N just west of 28th Street. It has 22nd Avenue traffic narrowed to one lane in each direction.

St. Petersburg road folks tell us this is a storm-drainage improvement project. A big storm-drainage improvement project. It won't be finished until next February, at the earliest.

So settle in and get used to it.

And be prepared for delays.

And now, Dr. Delay's Terrible Traffic Tidbit of the Week:

Strange but true, exactly the same number of people -- 16,652 -- died in alcohol-related crashes in 2001 as in 2000. On the other hand, injuries declined almost 10 percent to 281,000.

All deaths from auto crashes last year are estimated to have been 41,703, a 0.2 percent decline from 2000.

Embedded in all those numbers is one horrible truth: 40 percent of the people who die in motor vehicle crashes are victims of their own alcohol abuse or someone else's.

Now that's a sobering thought.

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

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