TAMPA — A bus will start transporting students across busy Hillsborough Avenue between an apartment complex and Middleton High School in the wake of student pedestrian deaths in the area.
The service is just one of numerous safety measures under way, said school superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who has been working with law enforcement and highway officials.
"We want to be as proactive as possible," Elia said at a news conference Thursday, joined by Middleton students and School Board member Doretha Edgecomb.
The shuttle, which starts Monday and lasts until the school year ends, will cost the district $250 a day, or a total of $8,000.
"You can't put a price tag on a student's life," said Edgecomb, a Middleton graduate who suggested the service.
Middleton student Shenika Davis, 15, died in 2011. Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, 15, died in March. Both were trying to cross Hillsborough when they were hit by vehicles near Meridian Pointe Apartments on the north side of the road.
After the March accident, students at Middleton attended safety assemblies. They signed a pledge to use care when walking to school. They wrote to the state Department of Transportation, asking for safer conditions on the six-lane road.
The district also spoke with the DOT and the city of Tampa. There are plans now to add a crosswalk and a traffic signal near the apartment complex. And the city says it will improve signs and retime traffic signals to allow pedestrians more time to cross.
The bus service adds to these measures, Elia said. It affects an estimated 24 students who live in the complex. There will be two runs each morning from the complex, at 6:45 a.m. and 7 a.m., and two in the afternoon from the school, at 3 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
"We're going to make this work somehow," Elia said. "We need to make things available and point out why they're there, and point out the safety issues."
She's also urging police to write tickets for jaywalking. "So all of you know, if you don't want to pay a ticket, make sure you don't walk across the street at the wrong place," she told the students.
Elia acknowledged there's no way of knowing how many students will choose to ride the bus. Participation is one factor the district will consider when deciding whether to continue the service next year. There's also the possibility that shuttles will be offered at other schools with pedestrian hazards.
Student Krystal Cubero, who was a friend of Shenika's, agreed that it's impossible to know how many students will choose to ride the bus. But she said she just wants students to stop taking unnecessary risks dashing across the road.
"I don't want to lose any more kids," she said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356.