Earlier in the week I was at Pop's. Pop was doing something I never do; watch the evening news on the television.
I-4 encountered a 50-vehicle pile-up. The pile-up happened due to extremely dense fog from a brush file that caused zero visibility. When I say zero, I mean zero. The fog was so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. And no, I wasn't there.
Of the few complaints I have about living in Tampa Bay, traffic congestion is one of them. Yeah, it's bad and yeah, you have to get used to it. I don't pretend like it doesn't exist. No matter where you go in the USA, if you dive into the metropolis, traffic happens.
Because of where I'm physically located in Tampa, I don't take I-4 often. It's not that I can't; I just have no reason to. In fact, the only time I do take it is for a very short hop (about ½ a mile) when driving back from my boss' house.
Here's how I drive around the Tampa Bay area. If you're living in the region you'll probably find some of this useful. And even if you're not it's an interesting read. 🙂
Understanding the layout
The three major interstates are I-75, I-275 and I-4. The highways worth mentioning are 301, 41, 92 and 19 (and the toll roads but I don't take those). Then there are state roads (SR) and county roads (CR). Then there's everything else.
Side note: Some (albeit few) SR's and CR's have the same name but are different roads entirely.
Highway vs. interstate - is any time saved?
(Yes there is a difference between a highway and an interstate.)
Answer: Not really.
The most possible time you'll save taking an interstate vs. a highway during daylight hours is about 5 minutes. Usually less.
I sometimes purposely avoid interstates (and highways if possible) entirely because the roads are much more wide open and less stressful to travel on.
My reviews on the roads mentioned above (plus a few extras)
I usually never run into issues on I-75. For the most part it's smooth sailing. What's interesting is that the congested part is usually towards Wesley Chapel and not Tampa.
I have heard, several times, that people hate this interstate. I don't. To me it's well laid out and has good accessibility. However for the uninitiated it can be a nightmare. I will admit this is one of those must-have-GPS type of interstates.
- You do need to have some backbone to drive this road. Not for the meek or the weak.
- You should prepare for your exit at least 3 exits ahead. This is because exit ramps are very close to each other.
As said earlier I haven't traveled this one enough to formulate a yea or nay on it. But for the times I've traveled it heading towards Universal Studios and Disney it's been smooth.
I don't like this road. A larger part of it in the Tampa area is Hillsborough Avenue. This road attracts a lot of moron drivers.
- Learn to "hug" the lane of where you need to turn. If you don't, you will get cut off.
- Larger trucks are your best friend. No one will cut you off if there's a slower larger vehicle in front of you.
This is a decent road and one many Floridians avoid in the interest of saving time even if you don't save any. This is fine for me and I use it from time to time. The drivers on 41 are far less aggressive compared to 301.
- There is absolutely no reason to speed on this road because of the stoplights. All you're doing is wearing out your brakes if you speed here.
- U.S. 41 can easily feel like an interstate in certain spots but it isn't. Traffic is slower.
For the places I travel on 92 I actually like it. It's usually slightly more clear compared to 41.
MSNBC said this may be the most dangerous road in the entire USA. I have traveled 19 a few times; its largest detriment is its design. U.S. 19 is really old. Fortunately Florida has listened and is actively updating it. I've already seen a few new improved portions of it, so they literally are "stepping up to the plate" as they say and getting things done.
What would most notably improve 19 is if Florida restricted it more. There are too many places where you can turn left and right; there needs to be more places that are just single-side-only (i.e. left turn only, right turn only).
And yes, they're working on that.
- Like U.S. 301, "hug" the lane where you need to turn.
- Avoid those huge crazy wide-open intersections that can take you in six different directions. You'll know what I'm talking about if you encounter one.
I've traveled SR 60 several times, particularly the portion that is the Courtney Campbell Causeway. At present it is toll-free (and hope it stays that way). This is a road that is eye-candy extreme, meaning it's gorgeous. Very clean, very easy to travel. Very well done.
This road is so well done that many people often drive under the speed limit (60mph) just to enjoy the view.
The only drawback is that sometimes kids drive their motorcycles 100+ MPH over this road in the wee hours of the night - and it's frickin' annoying. But fortunately this is only during night hours. During the day you don't see it.
I travel on 580 a lot. The part I'm on most is where it stretches in Hillsborough County.
What I can tell you about 580 thru Hillsborough applies to all high-traveled non-interstate roads in Tampa Bay:
- If you don't drive the speed of traffic, you are a hazard. Driving slow will not help you and actually put you more at risk for an accident.
- You'd better be the type who uses turn signals unless you want to get rear-ended by another car.
- The fastest lane is always the center lane. If you're on the left or the right side you will encounter people turning all the time.
- It's common for people to pull out of parking lots on to 580 that are right next to a stoplight. If you do the courteous thing and let those drivers out in front of you, no one behind you will honk the horn. FL drivers are cool like that.
- DO NOT stick the nose of your car out if pulling out of a parking lot on to 580. This may work in other places to get traffic to let you out, but not in Florida. What will likely happen if you do that is you'll get wrecked.
Final notes - Defining the idiots
I can honestly say that most Florida drivers are actually courteous and don't drive like idiots.
But as far as idiots go, I can define the worst drivers in Florida as five types:
If you drive in an area that has a high concentration of old crusty people (i.e. Clearwater), they can and do hit other drivers often. The main reason for this is because they hesitate. That hesitation causes accidents a lot.
2. College students
I don't go anywhere near USF because every time I do I get tailgated by a college student.
If you "brake check" one of these idiots, they don't get the hint. All they do is back off for about 5 seconds and then go straight up your ass again. Yes, they're that stupid.
This is anyone who has a really loud stereo in their car, as in the kind with booming bass that shakes your car.
Thumpers can't hear anything around them because their own "music" is too loud. This makes them a hazard. If a fire truck were coming down a side street they'd have absolutely no way of knowing. These morons always love to say "But I would be able to see the lights!" Wrong. If the fire truck is on a side street coming your way (as they often are), you won't see it until it's literally on top of you.
4. Redneck truckers
This is a guy (and it's always a guy) that has a Chevy, Dodge or Ford 4x4 truck with huge mudder tires, a suspension lift and a body lift. It's the ultimate 4x4 - in Florida. Yes, I know, it makes no sense.. but they do it anyway.
These idiots drive on I-75 at around 80 to 90mph on tires never meant to go that speed. You can hear the tire sound alone from at least 10 car-lengths back.
If you see one approaching, just let them pass. I'm sure they need to get to the speed shop 5 minutes quicker to get that special 65-dollar air cleaner for a vehicle that only gets 9 miles per gallon on its best day, going downhill.
5. Crappy car driver
If you see any car that has dents, dings, lights busted or the like, stay as far away from them as you can. Why? Because you know they've hit other cars before.
Incidentally, lots of USF students have cars like these. Coincidence? I think not.
Final notes - Use GPS to understand the grid
As I wrote about recently, I mentioned that lots of people have an over-reliance on highways and interstates.
This is absolutely 100% true in Florida. If it weren't for highways, most people would never go anywhere.
It is possible to get places in Tampa Bay without using a single highway. As most people are aware, highways and interstates weren't first. Roads were. A huge chunk of Tampa Bay is a big grid (example). The best way to understand the grid is by using GPS.
While it's true trips would take longer, you can essentially skirt all the traffic easily if you're desperate enough to avoid it all. 🙂
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