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County hasn't compiled accident data since 1999

Y2K and staffing shortages are blamed. Without the data, Pasco cannot pinpoint the most dangerous roads or apply for state money to fix them.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

Rob Kalo fears that more development along Perrine Ranch Road will cause more accidents.

So late last month, the New Port Richey man made a seemingly simple request: He wrote the Pasco County Traffic Operations Division for information about recent wrecks.

The county couldn't fill the request.

For more than 21/2 years, the county hasn't compiled data about where accidents happened, how they happened or anything else that would reveal patterns.

"What's happened for the last three years?" Kalo asked. "What kind of accidents were caused by it?"

Bob Reck, the county's traffic operations manager admits: "We need the data to do a proper analysis of our roadways."

Without it, Pasco has been unable to attack dangerous roads. And it has been unable to apply for state money to fix those roads.

Reck blames the problem on Y2K and staffing shortages.

The timing couldn't be worse. In 2001, Pasco roads were deadlier than ever.

The county stopped compiling data midway through 1999. Fatalities have climbed from 79 in 1999 to 81 in 2000 and 107 last year.

Would the data have prevented accidents?

"That's hard to say," Reck said. "Maybe there might have been a few."

After every wreck, including fatalities, law enforcement provides the county with an accident report. There are about 6,000 accidents reports for each year, Reck said.

The county compiles the data to release an annual study.

The 1998 study was the last one produced.

In the 1998 study's introduction, it is described as a basic tool that is "part of Pasco County's continuing effort to increase safety."

"We would pick out intersections that looked like there were high rates and see if there was a way we could make an improvement," Reck said.

State grants are one way to make an improvement. Three years ago, the state Department of Transportation started receiving applications for a new program. The program launched state funding of safety improvement projects on roads that aren't state or federal.

In the local five-county region, Pasco and Citrus are the only counties that have not applied for such aid. To get the money, the counties provide the state with accident information on dangerous intersections or roads.

"They need to come to us because we frankly don't know where those places are," said Keith Crawford, the state transportation department's assistant district traffic operations engineer.

Crawford stressed that Pasco might not have had a project worthy of state money, but without the information, it will never know.

County Commissioner Peter Altman said he wants to stress road safety improvements this year, but he didn't know the county wasn't compiling information.

"It may underline the fact that the county has not been committing significant resources to looking at (its roads)," he said. "It would certainly seem to be the prime piece of information that would be needed for us to make safety improvements."

Reck said the county's troubles started in 1999.

That summer one member of the county's three-person accident analysis team left work. Then, unexpectedly, it didn't receive new, Y2K-compliant software from the University of Florida. The school never produced the software, Reck said.

The situation got better in early 2000 when the county received a state grant for new software, but then it failed to get additional state money.

Last month, with stacks of accident reports building in the office, Reck turned to the county for money.

Soon the traffic division will submit a request to the county commissioners for about $31,000 in county money and $16,000 from the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees long-range transportation funding.

Reck said his division needs a consultant to help catch up on data entry.

"If everything goes right, I hope to be totally caught up, I would say probably by, I hope no later than September, but that's a big if," Reck said. "Hopefully at the latest by the end of the year."

Rob Kalo said that won't help him.

"This should have been done from the beginning," Kalo said. "We expect the Pasco County government to be taking care of the citizens."

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