Intersection plan finds little support
By MAUREEN BYRNE
© St. Petersburg Times,
SEMINOLE -- Pinellas County commissioners appear ready to drop a plan that would alter traffic patterns on 113th Street near Walker Avenue, an area that has generated much controversy since a fatal accident two years ago.
After listening Monday to a dozen residents who live in the Oakhurst Shores subdivision, a neighborhood of single-family homes west of 113th Street and north of 54th Avenue, the commissioners wondered why its staff was even considering making any changes on the six-lane roadway.
The consensus from the residents was to leave the road alone. They said any changes would only cause more accidents.
"Why are we doing this?" Commissioner Calvin Harris asked at the workshop.
Commissioner Susan Latvala also questioned whether changes to the road were necessary. Statistics show it is not a high-crash area.
"I guess that's what we need to be discussing," she said. "On a well-traveled road, we can't prevent all accidents."
Interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster assured commissioners that the county doesn't go out looking to interfere in communities. She said the county was asked to do something about the intersection of Walker Avenue and 113th Street after a woman and a girl were killed there in December 1999.
Susan M. Plikunas, a 35-year-old mother of three, and her daughter's 10-year-old friend, Alyssa Simcoe, died after Plikunas' car was struck by a pickup traveling south on 113th Street. Plikunas was trying to turn left onto 113th Street from Walker Avenue.
A curve in the road and a privacy wall just north of Walker Avenue limit the sight distance for motorists exiting Walker. After the fatal accident, the county installed a "Right Turn Only" sign on Walker.
Officials also hired an engineering company to conduct a study of traffic patterns on 113th Street from 54th to 66th avenues. The result of the study was the installation of lighting and flashing beacons warning motorists of the curve and of an advisory 35 mph speed limit. Workers also painted an island at Walker Avenue to discourage left turns.
The second phase of the project, which commissioners discussed on Monday, includes installing a concrete barrier at the median opening on 113th at Walker Avenue to prevent motorists on Walker from making left turns. Although left turns already are prohibited, some drivers ignore the "Right Turn Only" sign. The barrier still would allow northbound traffic on 113th Street to turn left at Walker.
The plan, which would cost $75,000, also included creating a southbound left turn lane at the first median opening south of Grove Street and a northbound left turn lane at the first median opening north of Oakridge Trail. These turn lanes would accommodate motorists who want to make U-turns.
Bad idea, according to Jim Wareheim, president of the Oakhurst Shores Neighborhood. "U-turns are one of the most unsafe movements a driver in an automobile can make," he said.
Resident Winn Schwartau told the commissioners that the privacy wall north of Walker Avenue was the problem. He said the county never should have allowed the wall to be built.
"We can't make (the intersection) perfect, but we can surgically make it better -- and that's removing the wall," Schwartau said.
Assistant County Attorney James Bennett said that for the county to condemn the wall, it would have to prove that its removal would completely eliminate the sight distance problem for motorists exiting Walker Avenue. It wouldn't, he said, explaining that the curve in the road would still limit motorists' views of vehicles traveling south on 113th.
Barbara Koyutis, who has lived in the Oakhurst Shores neighborhood for 30 years, supports the county's plan. "We need more entrances and exits to get out of that community," she said, such as extending 54th Avenue to Bayshore Drive, which would link 54th to other streets in the subdivision. The road now ends just west of 113th Street.
Lancaster said the commission will need to make a decision to either approve the plan or to drop it altogether. All residents in the subdivision will be mailed a notice of when the vote will be taken, probably be at the end of the month, she said.
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