I'm a curmudgeon. It takes a lot to make me to smile.
But on one August day the task seemed especially impossible as I motored along Interstate 275. I was choking the steering wheel in a stress-induced death grip. My CD player was fried, leaving me trapped with — oh the horror — local radio. Gas was close to 4 bucks a gallon. And the gizmo that raises and lowers my car's passenger window was broken.
Then it started. At first it was just a chuckle, but it kept growing until it reached full-blown guffaw.
There, south of the Frankland bridge, was a highway crew replacing mile-marker signs.
I've lost it, right? Signs? Funny?
I should have been furious.
Why replace the signs now, when the state is facing a cash crunch? Who needs mile markers in an urban corridor when the closest exit is never even a mile away? Did some studious highway engineer discover the old ones were 10 feet off?
But I'm wired differently. The person responsible for this project tickled my funnybone when he decided that marking each mile wasn't enough. He had the solution for the Tampa Bay area's stressful commutes.
That's right, half-mile markers. About 2,640 feet (Come on, you don't expect the state to be accurate, do you?) after "Mile 30" you will find a "Mile 29" marker, with a smaller sign tacked on the post below.
If only that was the end.
The planners, understanding that area motorists never know where they are, added a red, white and blue Interstate 275 logo to each mile marker, and "North" or "South."
Then, as part of the project, the state installed, every few miles, larger red, white and blue Interstate 275 logo signs telling motorists the direction they are traveling. One was installed behind a bush (at marker 25.5), rendering it useless.
Do highway planners think we are stupid? Was there some extra cash lying around that needed to be spent?
I'm betting it was both.
The state Department of Transportation has become NASA-like, building in layer after layer of redundancy in an effort to help us simps behind the wheel.
My proof? Count the signs in an urban corridor near you.
Wait. Using your fingers and toes to add while driving can get dicey. I'll do it for you.
The test area was a 13-mile stretch of I-275 from the Frankland Bridge to Interstate 175 near downtown St. Petersburg. I left out speed limit, yield, merge, mile-marker and warning signs.
I didn't count overhead electronic signs. And I ignored the sign on the ground at mile marker 32.5. (Hey, maybe this ".5" thing has merit.)
Call it signous congestion.
The heaviest concentration? Around the convergence of interstates 175, 275 and 375 — an area where motorists should be focused on the road, not deciphering signs.
Canada's Five Man Electric Band warned us in 1970.
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind, Do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs?
Not all of these — unless your head is on a swivel. Reading War and Peace is easier.
I also took stock of roadside billboards, the scourge of our diligent public servants (politicians) who frequently fight to banish them from our highways.
But I might have missed one or two.
All those other signs were distracting.
Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? To read previous columns, click on his name at the top of this column. He can be reached at [email protected]