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County gives on road plan

County officials back off some of their unpopular plans for intersection changes there.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 26, 2001


SEMINOLE -- Call it a victory of sorts for residents of Oakhurst Shores subdivision.

A right-turn-only sign will remain on Walker Avenue, but a concrete barrier will not be installed in the median opening where Walker intersects with 113th Street. Although left turns are prohibited, some drivers ignore the sign.

The Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday not to pursue any additional modifications on 113th Street, such as the concrete barrier and U-turn lanes south and north of Walker Avenue.

Not all of the plan was scrubbed, however. Because the county is encouraging motorists to exit the neighborhood from Grove Street and 54th Avenue N, it will widen Island Avenue between Walker Avenue and Grove Street.

"I still, for the life of me, can't figure out why this intersection is so important," Commissioner Calvin Harris said Tuesday.

Many of the subdivision's residents also wondered why the county took such an interest in their neighborhood and in nearby 113th Street. Granted, they said, a 1999 fatal traffic accident at the intersection of Walker Avenue and 113th Street was a tragedy, but it was an isolated incident. Statistics show the site is not a high crash area, they said.

On Tuesday, resident Carl Rennell said he doesn't mind that he can't turn left from Walker onto 113th Street. It's too dangerous, he said. A curve in the road and a privacy wall just north of Walker Avenue limit the sight distance for motorists exiting Walker.

"But I was really opposed to those U-turns," said Rennell, who is 53. "I was totally dead-set against that."

So were the majority of people who live in the Oakhurst Shores neighborhood, a subdivision of single-family homes west of 113th Street and north of 54th Avenue.

At public hearings, they pleaded with county staff and commissioners to leave the stretch of 113th Street near their homes alone. Installing U-turn lanes and a concrete barrier in the median opening would only increase the potential for traffic accidents.

The county listened, to a point.

Many of the neighborhood's residents said they wished the county never had installed the right-turn-only sign. But Interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster said the county only was responding to neighbors' requests to make the intersection safer.

The county hired an engineering firm to conduct a study of traffic patterns on 113th Street from 54th Avenue to 66th Avenue. Lighting and flashing beacons warning motorists of the curve were installed. Workers also painted an island at Walker Avenue to discourage left turns.

The second phase of the project included installing the concrete barrier and the U-turn lanes. The barrier would have allowed northbound traffic on 113th Street to turn left at Walker.

But residents complained about not being allowed to turn left. Instead, they said, the privacy wall should be removed. Located just north of Walker, it limits the sight distance for motorists exiting Walker.

Assistant County Attorney James Bennett said in a workshop earlier this month that the county could not condemn the wall unless it proved that its removal would completely eliminate the sight distance problem. It wouldn't, he said, explaining that the curve in the road would still limit motorists' view of vehicles traveling south on 113th.

"Hopefully, down the road if they do anything, they'll put a traffic light there at Walker," Rennell said.

However, traffic engineers say putting a signal light at the intersection could result in rear-end accidents and the potential danger of drivers running the red light.

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