Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Public safety

Gauging Sunshine Skyway wind conditions can be complicated

How do the "High Wind" flashing lights on the Sunshine Skyway bridge get turned on? Is it a sensor somewhere or does someone wet their finger and say: 'Gee, lots of wind today, better turn on those lights'? The reason I ask is that recently it was extremely windy, yet those lights were not on. Conversely, there have been times it wasn't windy at all and they were on.

Russell Skillman

Kris Carson of the Florida Department of Transportation told us that high wind conditions on a bridge like Sunshine Skyway are more complicated than one might think. "For example, if the wind is coming in the same direction as the bridge (essentially north or south), it is less of a concern than if it is at a 90-degree angle. The closer to a 90-degree angle, the lower the wind value it takes to cause concern. Also, vehicle 'profile' is an important factor. Finally, on the Skyway, the wind is often at different speeds at the various heights of the bridge," Carson said.

The Florida Highway Patrol is responsible for determining whether conditions are safe for crossing. Sustained wind speeds at higher levels trigger concern, and if FHP officials think the bridge is unsafe, they can manually activate the high-wind warning flashers or close the bridge.

Carson said wind speeds are monitored on site and at the Traffic Management Center. When conditions raise concern, a state trooper is assigned to monitor traffic on the bridge. If he or she observes vehicles like box trucks being buffeted by the winds, the trooper will close the bridge to those types of vehicles. As winds get higher, the officer can close the bridge to all vehicles, which is infrequent.

The construction that's under way on the bridge will include new overhead signs at both ends of the bridge that will be remotely controlled from the Traffic Management Center, Carson said.

Several days a week I travel to St. Anthony's Hospital via Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. To turn left onto Fifth Avenue N is taking your life in your hands. If you are at the red light, the cars going south appear to be heading right at you; the road veers just before they do. The hard part then starts, waiting for traffic to let up to go left. Many people, including me, have gone through on the yellow light. That intersection needs a left turn arrow desperately before someone gets killed.

Judi Stewart

The issue is already on the radar of the city's traffic manager. Because this particular traffic signal belongs to the state, Bill Foster — St. Petersburg's traffic signal coordinator, not the mayor — is working with the state DOT. "We have made a request for a northbound left-turn arrow at this traffic signal to the FDOT. They are performing a warrant study and if they approve, the left turn will be added," Foster wrote in an email last week.

Email Dr. Delay at [email protected] to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions. Follow Dr. Delay on Twitter @AskDrDelay.

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