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County Commissioners quiz FDOT on trouble spots

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By Sean Arnold

The Board of Levy County Commissioners argue that the county’s unique traffic patterns might be preventing the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) from properly measuring its worst traffic hazards along state highways.

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At the County Commission meeting Jan. 23, they voiced those concerns to Jeff Scott, the District Safety Program Engineer for the FDOT, who reported on recommendations from safety reviews concerning four potentially problem roadways along state roads in the county.

The study process for each location, which were requested by the county, included collecting crash report data, conducting a field review by an engineer, providing a crash analysis and concluding with recommendations. The crash data was from 2012 to 2016.

The two main areas of concern for the Commission in the report included: 1) the stretch of State Road 24 in front of the Bronson Speedway, extending to Andee Road, and 2) the intersections of State Road 45 (US 41) and County Roads 326 and 323 in Morriston.

Across from the Speedway, there’s a Chevron gas station and a food mart, and FDOT found a high number of northbound crashes as vehicles slow down to turn into the station. It recommends installing a left-turn lane at the Chevron Station for cars entering and exiting the lot, as well as a turn-lane a few hundred yards up the road at Andee Road.

Scott said the FDOT could secure federal funding for the project and conduct its design and construction, adding that the Department has already begun the design process, which, combined with the time required for the funding to open up, would require around two years to complete, Scott said.

“This is your business, but you would be amazed how much traffic is on (NE) 99th Place (Andee Road), especially early in the morning when people leave for work,” Commission chairman John Meeks said. “I know that you all have guidelines you have to follow – I certainly do appreciate any changes you make as far as turn lanes. I also ask that you consider signage or lighting options to alert people of the danger of this area.”

As for the Morriston location, where there was a crash fatality the weekend prior to the meeting, the FDOT report recommends oversized signage indicating to “Stop Ahead” on the CR 323 westbound approach, but its crash analysis on the intersection of US 41 and CR 326 “did not show any correctable crash trend,” and so no recommendations were made for a traffic signal or any other additions.

“I’ve lived in that area for 40 years, and I know we’ve asked and asked to get something done there,” Commissioner Mike Joyner said. Joyner asked Scott about the metrics used to determine whether a traffic signal is needed, and said traffic is heavier at an earlier hour in the morning there compared to other roadways because of the horse farms.

Scott said there are nine criteria used in the cost-benefit analysis for traffic signals, with traffic volume being factored the highest. Joyner offered to ride with Scott or another member of the FDOT during what he understands as a peak traffic hour at the intersections to better illustrate the need for a traffic light. Commissioner Rock Meeks echoed Joyner’s sentiments about the dangers of the 326/41 intersection.

“There are two places, if you all did your analyses at a different time of day, hopefully, you all would change your mind (about adding traffic lights or signage),” Joyner said. “I know some of your engineers have been out there, but they haven’t been out there when they need to be out there.”

Joyner asked whether or not a warning about a church entrance could be placed along 41 in the area near the Morriston Baptist Church. Meeks later added that the yellow flash said traffic engineers try to avoid crowding roadways with signage, and most blinking caution lights installed nowadays are slaved to a sensor so that they only light when traffic is present.

Scott said he couldn’t speak with authority on those particular Morriston intersections, but said FDOT is open to ways to make the area safer, and they would take Joyner up on his offer for a ride along. The report says visibility isn’t an issue in the area, and there were no discernable crash patterns at the intersections.

“It’s a little bit outside of my expertise area, but it’s a little bit of a slippery slope (adding signage),” Scott said. “Pretty soon you have warning signs all over, and the whole idea behind traffic engineering and signage is, keep it simple so people actually look at what you’ve got.

“Our engineers tried to figure out a time when it would be heavy. We have traffic counters everywhere, and that’s how we indicate when volumes ought to be the highest. If the problem’s different than what we think it is, we’re open to trying to fix the problem.”

There were two additional locations in the report, both in Williston, including State Road 45 (US 41) at State Road 121 (the fork in the road heading out of town towards Gainesville or Archer), and the intersection of State Road 45 (US 41) and State Road 121 (County Road 316). The report recommended no additions to those locations, and the Commission didn’t push back on the report’s findings.

“There is a lower rate of speed, so I think there’s more reaction time for folks pulling out,” Commissioner Matt Brooks said of the former location,

In a letter the Commission presented at the meeting, read by John Meeks, which will be issued to everyone from Gov. Rick Scott to the Levy County legislative delegation and FDOT, the Commission also expressed concerns for the intersection of State Road 121 and County Road 326, which experienced a recent fatality.

Rock Meeks later added that he’s repeatedly raised concerns about the Chiefland intersection of US 19 and County Road 341 (NW 60th Ave.) where parallel lanes merge onto the highway.

“If you just go sit there for a little while, you’ll see near-misses all day long,” Meeks said. “We promote tourism like crazy in our county – we’re bringing people to our county – and our goal is to make it as safe as possible for everybody. And with y'all's help, I think we can accomplish that goal.”

John Meeks said the traffic issues will continue to intensify as more drivers employ the county’s roadways to avoid I-75 when coming to and from the Tampa area and the corresponding Veterans Expressway.

“They utilize (State Road) 121 to make their way back on I-75, travelling in an unknown land,” Meeks said. “And maybe statistics say that signage doesn’t work for the local folks, but it would definitely work for those folks, because they’re halfway lost as it is. So I implore you to reconsider the effectiveness of signage, especially signage that is not constantly lit up.

“(Travelers) deserve to have the ability to be aware of potential pitfalls that await them. Anything we can do at the county level, or that the state can do, we implore you to please investigate so we can quit having these kinds of tragedies in our community.”