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Mighty Wal-Mart, please heed my cry

By JEFF WEBB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002

It's too late to persuade the Hernando County Commission to do anything about it.

And the Florida Department of Transportation doesn't see it as a problem.

So, I take this urgent plea directly to the only one who has the power to grant my wish.

No, it's not St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes (although that might be the next stop if this one doesn't work out). My appeal is addressed to Wal-Mart, the corporate giant that is on the verge of breaking ground at one of its inimitable supercenters at the corner of U.S. 19 and Osowaw Boulevard in Spring Hill.

Please, please do not put a cut in the median on U.S. 19 that will enable northbound traffic to turn left into the Wal-Mart entrance. Surely it will not affect your bottom line if you simply direct the throng of shoppers to use the frontage road entrances and exits on Osowaw Boulevard and Wendy Court, which are on the west side of U.S. 19 across from Spring Hill Drive and Applegate Drive, respectively.

For those who might be tempted to interpret this request as anti-Wal-Mart, it is not. I have never been strongly opposed to commercial development at that corner, by Wal-Mart or any other business. This is much to the chagrin of those who fought so hard to prevent it and were unable to persuade me of their arguments.

That said, I am very much against making that stretch of heavily traveled road more confusing and dangerous than it already is, and I truly believe that traffic turning across U.S. 19 into Wal-Mart will do just that.

There is only 1,740 feet between the traffic signals at Spring Hill Drive and Applegate. The median cut will be 820 feet south of the light at Spring Hill Drive, which puts it almost in the middle of that stretch of road.

Go there one day this week between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and watch the volume of traffic, and the speed at which most motorists travel, and you'll get an idea of how risky it might be to turn across two or three lanes of traffic.

The county and state engineers and planners I spoke with are predicting the median cut will make the intersection safer because it will draw people away from the traffic signals. They're the experts (and even if they aren't experts, it's still likely they are smarter than this old hillbilly from Tennessee in most respects). But I just can't bring myself around to that way of thinking. Seems to me the extra traffic Wal-Mart generates on that section of road will result in more accidents, longer waits to turn, and possibly gridlock if someone breaks down or bends a fender.

And, don't forget, traffic also will be exiting Wal-Mart directly across from that median cut and heading south. Watch the mayhem when some drivers use the median cut to make a U-turn or become disoriented and try to use it as a crossover.

Proper and plentiful signage should help. So will the precise timing of the signals at Applegate and Spring Hill Drive. But will it be sufficient to prevent more accidents and back-ups? I doubt it.

Seems to me the county and the state need to get together and agree to get motorists -- as well as businesses -- accustomed to the idea of using frontage roads exclusively for entering and exiting roads like U.S. 19 and State Road 50. If that doesn't happen, everybody and their brother will think they have some inalienable right to direct access from U.S. 19.

And when that happens, we'll already have a name for the result: Pasco County.

My mistake

Observant readers were quick to point out that I made an error in last Sunday's column. For those who may have missed it, I wrote about my impressions of the County Commission meeting held at the Springstead High School theater regarding proposals for three apartment complexes.

I attended the meeting, which was held Wednesday, April 24. But when I wrote the column I mistakenly said it was held Thursday, April 25. It was a simple case of getting my days mixed up and it should not have happened. The Times corrected the error on this page Tuesday, April 30.

My apologies for any confusion it created, and my regrets that it apparently detracted from the points I attempted to make.

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