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Speed limit on East Lake to rise

By MATTIAS KAREN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


EAST LAKE -- The speed limit on part of East Lake Road will soon catch up to many of the drivers who routinely ignore it now.

The Pinellas County Commission voted Tuesday to raise the road's speed limit from 45 mph to 50 mph between Keystone Road and the bridge over Brooker Creek. County traffic officials proposed the change after a study showed that most cars on that stretch already are traveling at speeds around 55 mph.

"This is pretty much the normal driving speed," Commissioner Fred Marquis said.

The only dissenting vote came from Commissioner Sallie Parks, who wanted to postpone the decision to get more input from the public.

"Generally we don't ramp up the speed (limit), we ramp it down, and that really makes a difference for me," Parks said.

What made a difference for the other commissioners was the support of county traffic engineers who conducted the study. Traffic Operations Manager Peter J. Turgeon said the current speed limit was set before East Lake Road was widened. To raise it now is appropriate for the new conditions, he said.

In addition, the speed limit north of Keystone is 55 mph, and 50 mph south of the Brooker Creek bridge. County workers said many drivers are caught driving on the stretch in between because they miss signs for the sudden decrease.

Turgeon said the new speed limit will not go into effect for another three to four weeks. The change has to be advertised for two weeks, he said, and it will take another seven to 10 days to get the new signs up.

No citizens were at the meeting to discuss the resolution. But some people who live close to East Lake Road are upset about the increase.

"We change our community, basically, to a highway that has homes around it," said Debbie Borden, who lives along the affected stretch. "We've chosen this as a community to raise a family in, and it's just not that any longer."

Borden said that with several schools and residential areas along that stretch, the county should try to slow down traffic instead of adjust to it.

"Increasing the speed limit is just giving people a license to do what they're already doing," she said.

John Honoski, another East Lake resident, e-mailed his concerns about the county study to Commissioner Karen Seel on Tuesday morning. Honoski said the study, which was conducted on a Tuesday in October between 10:31 a.m. and 11:12 a.m., was not sufficient to base the change on.

"To make a decision such as this based on a less than 45-minute study on one day is ludicrous at best," Honoski said. "I drive (the road) enough to know there are several accidents a week. How will increasing the speed limit help this? . . . Every day I am cut off by people driving recklessly in this area which will only get worse with an increase in the speed limit."

But Turgeon said he doesn't anticipate the faster drivers to increase their speed much with the new speed limit. Instead, county workers say, the gap between speeders and drivers going the speed limit will grow smaller, which could cut down on accidents because there will be fewer lane changes.

"Most drivers travel (at a speed that) is comfortable, and what the pace speed of the traffic is," Turgeon said.

Sheriff's Deputy James Bordner said he can understand the opponents of the change, but the sheriff's traffic enforcement department did not have problems with it. While many drivers travel much too fast on the road, changing the speed limit to 50 mph is not unreasonable, he said.

"I don't know that it will really change the circumstances in that area at all," Bordner said.

- Mattias Karen can be reached at (727) 445-4243 or at northpin@sptimes.com.

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