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    A Times Editorial

    How much would you pay for safer roads?

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


    What's the one concern that all residents of mid and North Pinellas share?

    Traffic.

    We sit at traffic lights together. Together, we struggle to get around during rush hour, holidays and tourist season on roads carrying far more traffic than they should. We can all relate stories of being victimized by speeding, aggressive drivers who seem to have no concern for their own safety, much less the welfare of other motorists.

    Together, we have bemoaned the lack of police presence on roads where traffic laws are ignored. How many of us, after witnessing some incident of roadway insanity, have said to ourselves, "Where is a police officer when you need one?"

    Since we have all complained, we can all now rejoice that law enforcement finally is gearing up to put the kibosh on reckless, high-speed driving on major roadways in North Pinellas.

    Several city police departments have boosted their traffic enforcement teams this year or rearranged their priorities to place more officers on the streets looking for speeders and aggressive drivers.

    And as reported in a story this week, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has won a three-year state grant that it will use to hire more deputies for traffic enforcement and buy unmarked cars, lasers and radar. The money will allow the department to substantially boost its presence on local roads.

    Speeding can be a problem in neighborhoods, but neighborhoods will not be the focus of the new push by area law enforcement agencies. They will zero in on major roads such as U.S. 19, McMullen-Booth Road and the Bayside Bridge where it is possible to achieve dangerously high speeds. In a recent crackdown on the Bayside Bridge, deputies clocked drivers going 92, 93 and 95 mph -- outrageous speeds for a heavily traveled urban roadway.

    A greater police presence on Pinellas roads is likely to slow down those who would turn our roads into raceways as well as make all drivers more conscious of traffic laws and their own behavior behind the wheel.

    However, police presence alone will achieve only a temporary impact. For lasting change, there will have to be aggressive enforcement over an extended period, combined with use of new technology developed to catch more traffic law violators. All that costs money.

    The new enforcement efforts in Pinellas partly result from a growing realization nationwide that motorists are driving faster and more aggressively, but also from demands for better enforcement by local residents worried about conditions on our roads, particularly U.S. 19.

    The politicians responded and the law enforcement agencies are delivering. Now residents will have to make it clear they are willing to pay what it takes to have safer roadways in Pinellas County.

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