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Dr. Delay: Amber and Silver alerts are meant for quick action

A reader recently sent a question that prompts the Doc to remind motorists of the importance of the Amber and Silver alerts on highway message boards. It's easy to become preoccupied with the task of driving and not paying close attention to the illuminated signs, but the alert system is a means for law enforcement to get information out to the public quickly regarding missing children and seniors.

A key point is that alerts posted on Florida's roads must meet specific criteria, so if you see a Silver Alert or an Amber Alert you can be certain that law enforcement has reason to believe that someone is in real danger.

Sure, we often read in the paper about alerts that have been canceled because kids have been found at a friend's house or at the mall.

Some readers have actually written the Doc complaining that the alerts prevent them from seeing the usual display of approximate travel times to major landmarks.

One reader wrote: "Lately when the DOT runs Silver or Amber alerts on the over-the-road signs, they seem not to post travel times to various locations. Is there a way for them to alternate them?"

We asked Kris Carson of the Florida DOT about the system and how it operates statewide. Carson said that because the program is relatively new, the DOT and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, along with other law enforcement agencies, are working together to make adjustments to the system and how the message boards are used.

"Recently, we agreed to use a more regional approach to Silver and Amber alerts," Carson said. "In the case of a Silver Alert in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, all the signs … will display the Silver Alert message. A limited amount of signs in the remainder of the state would have alert messages. The majority of remaining signs again would display travel times and traffic information since we consider that very important information to our traveling public."

Regarding the suggestion of alternating Silver or Amber alerts with traffic information on the same signs, it's not the DOT's current practice to do so. Carson noted that the first hours after a person's disappearance or abduction are critical, so alternating the alert message with traffic information would detract from the original purpose.

I'm happy to hear this, and I hope this practice remains. I think most drivers will agree that when we look at the issue with some perspective — what if it were my kid missing? — the prospect of not being able to get a ballpark estimate of how many minutes it will take to cross the Howard Frankland Bridge won't seem so awful.

Readers have Ideas for safer I-375 exit ramp

Many Dr. Delay readers have sent suggestions on how to improve the I-375 exit ramp, all of which we shared with the DOT.

Reader Paul Cooper, who travels the road daily, wrote: "The left lane, considered the fast lane, should become exit-only beginning well north of the exit ramp, and the 50 mph speed should be posted earlier."

Cooper's suggestion is one that was echoed by several readers. But DOT says the left lane cannot function as an exit-only lane to I-375.

"At about a half mile from the I-375 exit there are four lanes provided, traffic in the left lane must exit at I-375, and the next lane over is the continuation of the 'option lane' to either exit onto I-375 or continue heading south on I-275. Therefore, if you defined the far left lane as exit-only, traffic in the 'option lane' would not know that this lane also can exit onto I-375. This would result in unnecessary lane changes, and reduce the capacity of this exit ramp," said Carson.

Suggestions about improved signs are being implemented. Carson told us that the DOT will replace the existing EXIT 50 MPH warning sign with a 50 MPH "reduced speed ahead" sign panel. Two large 50 MPH Speed Limit signs will be posted on either side of the ramp before the curve, and delineators will be mounted to the top of the barrier wall on the right side of the ramp curve in order to better enhance the visibility of the curve at night.

Please e-mail Dr. Delay at [email protected] to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions.

Dr. Delay: Amber and Silver alerts are meant for quick action 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 4:31am]
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