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Crash-prone road getting new guardrails

Increased traffic and bigger roads have caused accidents in some suburban back yards. The county has plans to help.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

CARROLLWOOD -- They're the neighbors no one wants -- busy streets backing up to homes.

They bring noise, traffic and safety hazards.

And in Tampa's growing suburbs, where the roads are well traveled and their widening is commonplace, that unwanted neighbor is inching too close for comfort.

"Aug. 1, 1987, we moved here," said Luis Maldonado, a homeowner in Cypress Bend, where dwindling setbacks contributed to a recent rash of accidents that sent cars careening across a curve of busy Anderson road and into nearby back yards.

"It was country when we moved here," he said. "It was out of the city. When we bought this house, the road was two lanes and real far away."

Then Anderson Road, where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, grew to four lanes.

Thwarted by a nature preserve on one side, engineers moved the street closer to Cypress Bend on the other.

Now the county is stepping in to alleviate the problem -- at least for accident-prone Cypress Bend, which was developed before the road was built. Officials explained on Wednesday that new guardrails will be installed to protect homeowners and their property.

"The guardrails will go up in two phases," said Robert Gordon, an engineer with the public works department.

The first phase, estimated at $40,000, will see 1,000 feet of guardrail go up along Anderson Road by July 12, Gordon said. The second phase will place a guardrail along the road's median.

In addition to guardrails, the county is considering flashing lights, striping and street lamps. The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office will increase patrols to deter speeders.

"I'm glad that finally we have something," said homeowner Luis Maldonado. "Maybe in the future we can get something better."

Cypress Bend's situation, though extreme, is not all that unusual.

"There was a lot of road building in the mid '80s to '90s," said Craig Mahlman, manager of site plan and subdivision review for the county 's planning and growth management department. "A lot of widenings -- Ehrlich, Fletcher -- they just all pushed up against subdivisions. It's kind of hard to go back the way it was. Our transportation is just so stressed we need all the lanes we can get."

Cars traveling between new destinations such as the Veterans Expressway and the Citrus Park Town Center mall come perilously close to the back yards on Shadybrook Drive, which have nothing to buffer them but weather-beaten wood fences.

Cars have flown through those fences, plowed across patios, skidded through lanais and ripped up lawns. They've leaked gasoline into swimming pools and smacked up against bedroom walls before sliding to a stop -- some perched on their sides like oversized lawn ornaments.

Double jeopardy does not apply. People who have experienced one bone-rattling crash sometimes are dealt another.

County engineers estimate the grassy setback between the road and the fences is 8 feet wide.

"That's not much," Gordon acknowledged.

The layout would definitely deter some Shadybrook residents from moving in today.

But 15 years ago, when Aaron Jones' family bought their home, the road was still just two lanes and the setback was much wider.

In 1988 the county decided to widen the road, a process completed in 1991. Traffic grew to an average of 30,374 trips a day, giving the road a "D" service rating on a scale from A to F. A steep downward grade, starting at the curb and dipping toward the homes, made matters worse, as did a sharp curve that speeding cars could not always negotiate.

Residents believe all these factors have contributed to the accidents.

"We had one a month ago that crashed into one of our neighbors' homes and ended up in our backyard," Jones said. It took out three panels of fence. "We had another one last Thursday that crashed into our other neighbor's yard and ended up in ours." That one took out the other half of the fence.

Feeling besieged, homeowners petitioned the county.

"It was a cry for help," said homeowner Anthony Mangieri. The Honda Accord that crashed on May 30 streaked through Mangieri's back yard before it landed at Jones' house. "The one thing we would have wanted to see more than anything was a wall or some sort of guardrail with landscape."

At Wednesday's meeting, some neighbors argued Anderson Road should be realigned. Others wanted it reduced to two lanes.

"I can tell you right now, that's not going to happen," Gordon told them.

For all the talk about safety, county officials don't really know how many accidents have happened there. Drivers do not always report them.

"Since 1997 we've only shown nine accidents out there," Gordon said. "It's a small percentage ... but if it's somebody in your back yard that's not a percentage point you want to see again."

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