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A zip here, a trap there

Speeding was a bad idea Friday on bay area bridges.

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 19, 2000


Anyone who drives Tampa Bay's bridges has seen their share of the NASCAR wanna-bes who treat traffic like an obstacle course. They change lanes like they're on a mission and see the bridge as their personal straightaway.

Friday, the bridges became speed traps.

Police mounted an all-day crusade to put the brakes on bridge traffic. They wrote more than a thousand tickets.

They might decide to do it again.

"People speed with impunity on the bridges, and with speed comes aggressive driving," said Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor. "It's a problem that's getting completely out of hand."

The bridges in question are the Bayside, Howard Frankland, Gandy and Courtney Campbell Parkway and the spans of State Road 580 through Oldsmar. Typically, most of these bridges are the sole domain of the perpetually understaffed Florida Highway Patrol.

Not this time. About 150 officers from 15 law enforcement agencies swarmed the bridges Friday in marked and unmarked cars and on motorcycles. Helicopters watched from the sky. A couple of officers aimed radar guns from tall cherry-picker trucks.

Although many tickets were written, officers say the point wasn't to generate fines. Their aim was to get drivers' attention. They also targeted aggressive drivers -- those speeding while tailgating or changing lanes improperly.

The operation was heavily publicized, and police noticed that traffic wasn't as speedy as usual.

St. Petersburg police and assisting agencies wrote 93 citations on the Gandy and Howard Frankland and on Fourth and Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) streets between the two bridges.

They ticketed 86 speeders, the fastest going 85 mph on the Howard Frankland, a 65-mph zone. Three times, officers noted on a speeding ticket that a motorist had been driving aggressively -- warning traffic judges not to go easy.

On the Hillsborough side, officers stopped 1,105 mostly incoming drivers and wrote 948 citations, 740 of them for speeding. Nearly 60 were for running red lights near the bridges. Officers identified 295 aggressive drivers, said Tampa police Cpl. R. Sinclair.

Tampa and Hillsborough-area officers also made 18 arrests.

On Hillsborough Avenue, an 18-wheeler blew through a red light and nearly hit someone. The truck driver's license had been suspended, and a warrant had been issued for his arrest, said Tampa police Sgt. Buddy Brogden. On the Courtney Campbell, police pulled over a woman for speeding and found drugs in her car.

Totals for the Pinellas Sheriff's Office and some other agencies weren't immediately available.

This was the first time Tampa Bay bridges were the target of such a vigorous aggressive-driving crackdown.

Authorities likely will gauge how costly and how effective the operation was before deciding whether to repeat it, said Shelor, the Clearwater police spokesman.

"I hope it'll get everybody's attention and have a lasting effect," he said. "I saw where one lady got a $180 ticket and said, "That's outrageous.' Yeah, that's what they cost."

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