03/11/12

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Introduction

Interstate 375 Eastbound

Interstate 375 Westbound

The Interstate 375 Overpass Incident - 28 March 2007

Perspectives of Interstate 375 from Downtown St. Petersburg Streets

 

Introduction

Constructed in the mid-1970ís and opened in 1978, Interstate 375 takes motorists to downtown St. Petersburg and to popular destinations such as BayWalk (a shopping and entertainment complex) and The Pier, a prominent St. Petersburg landmark that juts out into Tampa Bay featuring shopping and restaurants.  Sandwiched between 5 Av N and 4 Av N (which is westbound and eastbound FL 595 respectively), Interstate 375 is less than a mile long and is shorter than its counterpart, Interstate 175.  The Coliseum, a St. Petersburg entertainment landmark, is the first building you see to your left as you exit Interstate 375 at its eastern terminus on 4 Av N.  You can also reach St. Anthony's Hospital by exiting Interstate 375 at Martin Luther King St N and making two left turns, one onto Martin Luther King St N and the other at 5 Av N.

If you are headed to Tropicana Field, you can use Interstate 375 as an alternative to Interstate 175 on game days.  Simply exit Interstate 375 at Martin Luther King St N and head south to 3 Av S.  Overhead signage will direct you to the Tropicana Field parking lot.

The speed limit is reduced to 50 mph for the entire length of this interstate.  Upon exiting, there are yellow blinkers that remind motorists to slow down to 30 mph as the road transitions from an interstate to a downtown street, that being 4 Av N.  Motorists, especially commuters trying to get to work on time, have learned this the hard way in the form of a visit from a Florida Highway Patrol trooper or a St. Petersburg Police officer and the resulting Florida Uniform Traffic Citation that is issued due to strict enforcement in this area.

The ramp from westbound Interstate 375 to southbound Interstate 275 has a ramp that splits off to the right that ends.  This is a reminder of a cancelled project that would have extended Interstate 375 westward across St. Petersburg and across the Intracoastal Waterway to the beach communities, probably Treasure Island or Madeira Beach.  While an extension of Interstate 375 towards the beach communities would be a welcome addition to those who live in the western half of St. Petersburg and surrounding areas, a combination of high land prices and neighborhood opposition would make such an expansion impossible.

Interstate 375 Eastbound

First signage for Martin Luther King St N, 8 St N and 4 St N

Taken as we cross 16 St N. You can see St. Anthony's Hospital which is to your left.

Signage for Tropicana Field

You can reach Tropicana Field by exiting Interstate 375 at Martin Luther King St N and proceeding south past Central Avenue to 3 Av S. This is a good alternative route to beat the crowds on Interstate 175.

Final opportunity for Martin Luther King St N and 8 St N

Access to these two streets is provided via 4 Av N, which is FL 595 eastbound and unsigned. Remain in the two left lanes to reach 4 St N, also signed as "To US 92".

The end of Interstate 375 is coming up in 2000 feet!

Be prepared for reduced speed and transition to 4 Av N.

Approaching the end of Interstate 375

The flashers on top of the reduced speed limit signs mean business: Make sure you reduce your speed to 30 mph or risk getting a ticket! Right after the reduced speed signage is where Interstate 375 ends at the end signage.

If the reduced 30 mph speed limit does not convince you...

...the traffic signals ahead (and possible St Petersburg Police and/or Florida Highway Patrol presence) will. The end of the concrete pavement marks the actual end of Interstate 375 and the transition onto 4 Av N. Besides, 4 Av N may be a local street, but it is eastbound FL 595 and under the jurisdiction of the Florida DOT.

Looking for 4 St N? Try the second signal!

The first traffic signal you encounter on 4 Av N from Interstate 375 is that of 5 St N. Notice that the signals were replaced with mast arms as part of a project done by the City of St. Petersburg Engineering Department as part of a Florida DOT Local Assistance Program (LAP) project.

Interstate 375 Westbound

Signage directing motorists onto westbound Interstate 375 from 5 Av N

Taken on 5 Av N just west of 5 St N. 5 Av N in this area is actually the westbound lanes of FL 595. Once you get on Interstate 375, you cannot get off - instead, you will have to enter Interstate 275.

Closeup of the signage for westbound Interstate 375

The signage is fairly new but the gantry it sits on is the original gantry when Interstate 375 was built in 1978. Notice the use of the North Bay Drive moniker, which is not mentioned on Interstate 275's Exit 23.

On ramp from 8 St N

The on ramp will join us as a through lane for the rest of Interstate 375's journey to Interstate 275.

And another on ramp from 5 Av N

This on ramp is for the convenience of motorists entering from Martin Luther King St N. If you missed the entrance to Interstate 375 on 5 Av N earlier you can do so here. This is the last on ramp we will see before Interstate 275.

Signage for Interstate 275

Use the left lane for southbound Interstate 275 to Bradenton or the middle and right lanes for northbound Interstate 275 to Tampa.

Final signage for Interstate 275

As mentioned earlier, use the left lane for Bradenton or the middle and right lanes for Tampa. Interstate 375 ends right after we cross the overpass we're now on.

Ramp to northbound Interstate 275

The right lane will end shortly after we enter Interstate 275, as we have to make room for traffic entering from 5 Av N and 20 St N.

Ramp to southbound Interstate 275

Notice to your right the ghost ramp that veers off to the right; this was supposed to be an extension of Interstate 375 to the beach communities but that idea was nixed before Interstate 375 was built.

Ramp to southbound Interstate 275 II

Watch your speed as you enter the ramp - the curvature is sharp and steep. You can also see the huge concrete supports carrying the ramp from southbound Interstate 275 to eastbound Interstate 375.

The Interstate 375 Overpass Incident - 28 March 2007

28 March 2007 was just another day in the life of Interstate 275 at Interstate 375, Exit 23.  The flyover ramp from Interstate 275 southbound to Interstate 375 eastbound was quiet. The evening commute wrapped up a few hours ago.

Until sometime before 11 PM.

A gasoline tanker trailer on its way to Sarasota to deliver fuel to the many convenience stores there did not make it to its destinations - instead, tragedy unfolded as the driver of the tanker trailer, thinking he may have still been on Interstate 275 headed south, exited onto Interstate 375 eastbound. Not knowing the fact that the driver was on a 50 mph ramp instead of the 65 mph highway, the tanker burst into flames as the driver tried to negotiate the near-sharp flyover ramp.

The tragic result was that the driver of the tanker truck passed away and a large fire ensued on the flyover ramp. As the flyover ramp goes over a City of St. Petersburg maintenance yard, several pieces of equipment owned by the City were lost as the gasoline from the tanker truck rained down from the overpass above.

The next morning engineers from the Florida DOT surveyed the damage to the overpass as a result of the tanker fire. It was concluded that a span of the overpass needed to be replaced as the concrete damaged in the fire was in no condition to let traffic back on.

With the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg being held the next day and the season home opener of the Tampa Bay Rays (back when it was call the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) a week away at Tropicana Field (plus the so many commuters that regularly use this ramp) how do you manage to get by with one less exit ramp into downtown St. Petersburg? Interstate 375's cousin to the south, Interstate 175, provided the answer along with a few alternate routes into downtown St. Petersburg. From what I understand, these events got off without a hitch traffic wise.

However, I believe several factors contributed to this tragic event. I wrote the following letter to the St. Petersburg Times in response to an article published on Saturday, 31 March 2007:

When this section of Interstate 275 was built in 1977 I believe the exit onto Interstate 375 (Exit 23A) should have been constructed as a right hand exit with access to 5th Avenue North. However, when the interstate was built with the left exit onto Interstate 375 the signage was well marked with advisories and warnings regarding the left exit and the reduced speed limit to 50 mph.

As a result of numerous sign replacement projects including the most recent one in conjunction with a concrete pavement rehabilitation project a while ago the left exit advisory signage - including the yellow "exit only" panel on the bottom of the sign - was replaced with nothing more than a diagrammatic sign without any mention of a left exit advisory. Any warning of a left exit onto Interstate 375 (or its counterpart, Interstate 175) from Interstate 275 today is nothing more than a little post mounted "Exit 50 mph" sign on the left side. I agree, once you are on that ramp onto Interstate 375 it's too late.

There is a similarity between the accident on Interstate 375 at Interstate 275 and the charter bus accident on Interstate 75 in Atlanta: Both exits have minimally marked left exit advisories. Perhaps if the left exit advisories were better signed these tragedies may have been averted.

Yes, the Interstate 375 ramp should have been constructed as a right exit. Having to exit from the left lane is confusing, yet sometimes dangerous. However, the left exit design was planned for in the very first place as Interstate 375 was supposed to continue west to the beaches as an east-west beach expressway but that idea was nixed long ago. The only remnant of this idea is a ghost ramp which can be seen on the ramp from westbound Interstate 375 to southbound Interstate 275.

Yes, the signage for Interstate 375 east from Interstate 275 south (Exit 23A) does not provide for any left exit warning. Back in 1977 when this section of Interstate 275 opened it had signage for Interstate 375 east complete with an "Exit Only" panel for the two left exit lanes as well as side mounted signage warning motorists of the 50 mph speed advisory for the ramp. Thirty years and a few sign replacement projects later the signage was replaced by two diagrammatic overheads and the overhead at the point of exit no longer has an "Exit Only" panel attached to the bottom. The only warning signage that exists today is the small side mounted 50 mph advisory signage on the left side of the exit ramp.

It should be interesting to note that at one point the MUTCD - or the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the book that defines the standards for road signs in the United States - did call for the use of the "Exit Only" panel when you have lanes departing from the mainline highway as part of the exit. The MUTCD was revised a few years ago to eliminate the "Exit Only" panel requirement when the lanes departing from the mainline interstate highway go to another interstate highway such as the junction of Interstate 275 and Interstate 375. I believe the "Exit Only" panel requirement should have been left in place as though you are transitioning from one interstate highway to another, you have exited from one interstate highway to begin with.

I believe the Florida DOT should upgrade the signage for both Interstate 375 and Interstate 175 (Exit 23A and Exit 22) from Interstate 275 south stating the fact that these exits are left lane exits and placing better warning signage such as the tipping truck graphic warning sign found in Tampa at Exit 39 (FL 60) from Interstate 275 southbound.  To date, only a sign panel with the word "Left" on a yellow background mounted atop the exit number panel is the reminder conveyed to motorists entering Interstates 375 or 175 from southbound Interstate 275.

However, in the long term, the Interstate 375 interchange should be rebuilt so that the exits occur from the right lane.  I have drawn a diagram showing you what the current interchange setup for Interstate 375 looks like compared to how it should have been built in the first place.  My suggested plan is to have all traffic headed for Downtown St. Petersburg via Interstates 375 and 175 as well as 5 Av N exit at one place somewhere between 5 Av N (Exit 23B) and 22 Av N (Exit 24), then distribute traffic evenly amongst 5 Av N, Interstate 375 and Interstate 175.

The morning after

Motorists used to getting to Downtown St. Petersburg using Interstate 375 were instead greeted by barricades. Practically everyone knew by seeing the pictures on Bay News 9 describing what happened.

Can't use Interstate 375 here!

Cones and "Road Closed" barricades were the order of the day and would continue for a few weeks.

A few days later

The Florida DOT replaced the temporary cones with more durable barricades to let traffic know that the ramp to Interstate 375 from northbound Interstate 275 was closed. Now everyone was getting used to just one direct entrance to Downtown St. Petersburg rather than two.

A somber reminder

How long will Interstate 375 be closed? We got the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg coming up not to mention opening day for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Cranes hard at work

Crews worked feverishly to demolish the damaged concrete girders of eastbound Interstate 375. Meanwhile, reinforcements were on the way in the form of replacement girders.

Where the damage was done

The black soot on the eastbound girders is where the tanker truck went off the overpass and landed onto a City of St. Petersburg maintenance yard.

Removing the girders

Demolishing the girders takes a lot of perseverance and machinery as workers go around the clock to get eastbound Interstate 375 back in service.

Back in Business!

As a result of dedicated work by the crew replacing the damaged beams of eastbound Interstate 375, the ramp was reopened on 21 April 2007 - just in time for the opening homestand with the Tampa Bay Rays!

Ascending the eastbound Interstate 375 ramp

You will notice that the ramp is signposted for 50 mph here. At last, motorists now have two direct entrances to Downtown St. Petersburg once again!

Where the repairs were made

The newer tint of white concrete patch is where the new girders were installed, replacing the damaged girders.

A reminder of what happened

The exit number tab for 22 Av N (Exit 24) is covered in soot. The exit number signage was eventually removed.

Perspectives of Interstate 375 from Downtown St. Petersburg Streets

Here are various images of Interstate 375 as seen from the streets of Downtown St. Petersburg.

 
Shields for both Interstates 375 and 275

This closeup trailblazer view directs motorists to Interstate 375 (which leads into Interstate 275) from 4 Av N and 8 St N.

Another view of the Interstates 375 and 275 shields

This is looking east on 4 Av N at 8 St N. From 4 Av N turn left and remain in the left lane. In the background is one of the many new mast arm signals installed in Downtown St. Petersburg as part of a Florida DOT Local Assistance Program project undertaken by the City of St. Petersburg.

Ramp to westbound Interstate 375

This ramp carries traffic from 8 St N onto westbound Interstate 375. There is no exit before Interstate 275, hence the "To Interstate 275" signage. An overhead gantry used to be in this location but it was apparently removed as part of a 2006 Interstate 375 concrete rehabilitation project.

Another view of the ramp to Interstate 375 from 8 St N

This is to give you a perspective as to where the overhead gantry used to be as described in the last photo. We also see one of the many new mast arm traffic signals here at 8 St N and 4 Av N.

Eastbound on 4 Av N

This is located at 8 St N. I took this photo to give you a perspective of the new mast arm signals that were installed not too long ago. 4 Av N is actually the eastbound lanes of FL 595 and is under the jurisdiction of the Florida DOT until 3 St N, which at that point reverts to City of St. Petersburg maintenance.

On the ramp to westbound Interstate 375

We go under Interstate 375 as we leave 8 St N behind and ascend to meet Interstate 375 on the other side.

Almost onto westbound Interstate 375

We just passed under Interstate 375 from 8 St N. This is a sharp ramp, so caution is advised including maintaining a safe speed.

And onto westbound Interstate 375

This is coming from 8 St N. Notice the ramp becomes a through lane all the way to Interstate 275 northbound.

The beginning of Interstate 375 westbound

Taken at 5 Av N at around 6 St N. Here Interstate 375 climbs a somewhat steep hill in order to cross 8 St N and Martin Luther King St N.

More Interstates 375 and 275 shields

This is looking east on 4 Av N at Martin Luther King St N. Also notice the hospital sign which leads motorists to St. Anthony's Hospital and its ER by making two left turns, one onto Martin Luther King St N and another at 5 Av N. By the way, St. Anthony's ER is on the right as you go west on 5 Av N.

Interstate 375 crossing Martin Luther King St N

This is looking south on Martin Luther King St N. It was converted into a one way southbound when Interstate 375 opened in 1978; today Martin Luther King St N is two way until 4 Av N. South of 4 Av N Martin Luther King St N becomes one way southbound. Head south on Martin Luther King St N until 3 Av S and turn right there for Tropicana Field.

Another view of Interstate 375 crossing Martin Luther King St N

We are looking north on Martin Luther King St N, which becomes two-way from 4 Av N northward to the Gandy area of northeast St. Petersburg and (eventually) Interstate 275.

Looking underneath Interstate 375

Notice the gigantic concrete pillars and concrete girders that make up Interstate 375. The branch off to the left is the on ramp from 8 St N. This is taken from Martin Luther King St N.

Another view of the underside of Interstate 375

Notice how a part of Interstate 375 branches off; it is for the on ramp from 8 St N as described in the previous photo. This is also taken from Martin Luther King St N.

Junction Interstate 375

Taken on westbound 5 Av N. By the way, 5 Av N was a one way street and the ramp was designed around this configuration when Interstate 375 was built in 1978. Now with 5 Av N being two way from Martin Luther King St N westward, motorists must use the center lane to enter westbound Interstate 375.

Follow Interstate 375 for Tampa and Bradenton

Use Interstate 375 to Interstate 275 north to Tampa or south to Bradenton.

Overhead gantry for Interstate 375 westbound

Notice the North Bay Drive moniker shown on the sign. This sign has been around since Interstate 375 opened in 1978 and I believe is in dire need of replacement as the sign is showing age from the button copy. This is located on 5 Av N west of Martin Luther King St N.

The ramp from 5 Av N to Interstate 375 west

Notice that the ramp was constructed around 5 Av N being a one way street westbound. Today, with 5 Av N being two way from Martin Luther King St N westward, motorists wanting to enter Interstate 375 must do so from the center lane. Besides, 5 Av N is actually the westbound lanes of FL 595 which runs to 34 St N (US 19); west of 34 St N, 5 Av N becomes US Alternate 19.

Another view of the entrance to Interstate 375 westbound at 5 Av N

Here you can see where motorists must be in the center lane to enter Interstate 375 from 5 Av N westbound. You cannot enter Interstate 375 westbound from 5 Av N eastbound. Speaking of 5 Av N eastbound, it was converted apparently to make access to St. Anthony's Hospital easier.

Merging onto westbound Interstate 375 from 5 Av N

Unlike the entrance from 8 St N, you will have to merge onto Interstate 375 westbound here.

How the City of St. Petersburg saves money

It's simple, especially in tough budget times: Put both the 375 and 275 numbers into one interstate shield! This is located on 7 Av N just west of Martin Luther King St N.

St. Anthony's Hospital

Here is the main entrance to St. Anthony's Hospital from 7 Av N. The entrance to the ER is located off of 5 Av N which makes it convenient from Interstate 375. (Psst! Your Webmaster began his journey here at St. Anthony's over 40+ years ago!)

Interstate 375 crossing 16 St N

This is on 16 St N looking north. Notice the concrete girders on eastbound Interstate 375 and a steel girder section on westbound Interstate 375; the steel girder section used to accommodate turn lanes enabling eastbound FL 595 traffic to transition to 4 Av N back when 5 Av N was one way westbound from Beach Dr NE to 16 St N. The turn lanes were taken out in favor of a transition ramp further west on 5 Av N.

Interstate 375 crossing 16 St N, Part II

Here we see the steel beam section for westbound Interstate 375 which accommodated the turn lanes from a long time ago as described in the last photograph. You can also reach Tropicana Field on 16th Street after exiting from Interstate 275 at Exit 23B, 5 Av N.

Transition ramp from 5 Av N to 4 Av N eastbound

This ramp was constructed a few years after Interstate 375 was built in 1978 in order to reduce accidents from the turn lanes on 5 Av N at 16 St N. Later 5 Av N was made two way from Martin Luther King St N westward.

Overheads for Interstate 275 on Interstate 375

We see a closeup view of the overheads for Interstate 275 as seen on Interstate 375 while we are on the ground at 16 St N. This overhead signage marks the end of Interstate 375 at this point. This signage is new signage that was replaced as part of a 2006 concrete rehabilitation project.

Eastbound on Interstate 375

This is seen on the ground at 16 St N. Notice the new 2006 signage for 4 St N on the eastbound lanes of Interstate 375 mounted on the original 1978 gantry.

Underneath Eastbound Interstate 375

Taken on 16 St N looking west. Check out the gigantic three column pillars that make up the highway; further west it goes into four column pillars as the lanes converge from Interstate 275 to form Interstate 375.

Underneath Eastbound Interstate 375 II

Again this is taken from 16 St N, but we're looking east now. I don't know why the eastbound lanes transitioned into four column pillars again. From here the highway curves slightly to the north in order to avoid an abandoned hospital which is today home to an emergency walk-in mental health clinic. (Florida Baker Act cases usually go to St. Anthony's Hospital, by the way).

The two eastbound lanes of Interstate 375 ready to converge

These are lanes from southbound and northbound Interstate 275 which converge to form eastbound Interstate 375. Check out the heavy duty hammerhead piers that hold up the highway. This is approximately the same location where the tanker accident occurred which required closure of the Interstate 375 ramp for a few weeks.

16 St N at 4 Av N and Interstate 375

Here we see the new mast arm traffic signals that were installed not too long ago. This is looking north on 16 St N.

Eastbound on 5 Av N

This is where the two right lanes will split off and transition onto 4 Av N. The left lane continues as part of 5 Av N as a two way street until Martin Luther King St N offering quicker access to St. Anthony's Hospital from southbound Interstate 275. We see Interstate 375 to the right and an abandoned CSX rail line in the background as evidenced by the removed gates.

Mileage for Interstate 375 on Southbound Interstate 275

Interstate 375 is 1-1/2 miles away on Interstate 275 south as we cross 30 Av N. It is signed along with two other Downtown St. Petersburg exits, FL 595/5 Av N and Interstate 175.

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