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Causeway to gain small reflectors

The city and state say the markers along the edges and the median will help reduce crashes.

By MIKE DONILA
Published January 26, 2007


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CLEARWATER - State transportation officials hope a series of small plastic reflective markings will help make the Clearwater Memorial Causeway a little safer.

But some motorists aren't so sure it will work.

Officials with the city and the state Department of Transportation this week have agreed for the state to install a line of RPMs, or reflective pavement markings, along the half-mile bridge. The move comes just days after a motorcyclist died when he lost control of his bike, skipped over the median and struck an oncoming car.

The markings will be placed on both sides of the roadway, between the low-rising median and a yellow line that runs about a foot parallel to the separator.

"We think it will help supplement the edges of the lines already there and increase awareness and visibility of the median," said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The state is still working on the details, so officials don't know when the markings will be installed. The work is expected to take a day or two.

Several people have died and a number have crashed on the $69.3-million bridge since it opened in August 2005. The bridge connects the beach with downtown Clearwater.

Some drivers and even local leaders, privately, have complained that the bridge is poorly designed and could lead to accidents.

But local engineers and state transportation officials say the design is fine and that the accidents are caused by either careless or reckless driving.

"They're driving too fast," said Mike Quillen, director of engineering for Clearwater. "It's not the design. You have to go through all kinds of hoops when you design these things. A lot of professionals have looked at it. Either they're going too fast or they're not paying attention."

Some motorists wonder if the state is taking the correct steps and whether there is more to do.

Some say the reflectors could actually be a distraction to motorcyclists, since they ride with their high beams on. Others suggest placing higher barriers to protect vehicles from flinging into opposite lanes.

Ray Bedgood was riding alongside Robert Beachamp on Jan. 14, when his friend was thrown across the median and into the westbound lanes of traffic.

Beachamp, a 41-year-old Land O'Lakes resident, died at the scene.

"I don't know exactly what happened, but the bridge does drop off and turns to the right quite substantially, so there should be something there warning people," said Bedgood, 41, who also lives in Land O'Lakes. "But if there was a barrier there it would have kept him from going across the traffic.

"That's something I'd look into if I was looking into problems with the bridge. If you blow a tire, it doesn't matter if you have a reflective light there or not."

Chris Schaaff, a 27-year-old Clearwater resident, said some motorists also might not "expect the drop and turn" along the bridge. He added that he's ridden the same path Beachamp did, and that spot "makes you feel like you're hitting wind, but you're not."

He said the pavement there weaves, which has caused his bike to shake in the past.

"I'm glad they're doing something, but the right thing to do is to repave that section," he said.

Fast Facts:

 

Timeline

A look at accidents on the Clearwater Memorial Causeway since the $69.3-million span opened to traffic Aug. 18, 2005.

Aug. 25, 2005: A 55-year-old bicyclist dies after crashing on the south side of the bridge. At the bottom of the bridge, the cyclist rode through one curve but missed the next.

April 25, 2006: Westbound driver on the bridge tries to pass the Jolley Trolley, loses control of her car and veers into oncoming traffic, critically injuring another motorist.

Jan. 14: Motorcyclist dies in wreck on the bridge.

Jan. 17: City and state transportation officials start talking about ways to make motorists more aware of the median.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 23:39:44]


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