BROOKSVILLE — With the number of vehicle crashes creeping up in recent years, Hernando County traffic planners have been examining what can be done to improve the safety and functionality of roadways.
This week, a congestion management plan was approved for the coming year. It targets trouble spots, including the intersection of Cortez and Mariner boulevards, intersections with traffic signals along U.S. 41 and the interchange of Cortez and Interstate 75.
William Roll of county transportation planning consultant Tindale-Oliver & Associates praised the county for keeping 98 percent of its roads at a grade of C or above, which is considered an acceptable level of service.
But other roads need attention, Roll told the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is composed of the five county commissioners and a representative from the Brooksville City Council.
Traffic crashes in the county rose from 1,529 in 2009 to 1,645 in 2010 and 1,907 in 2011.
In the examination of four categories of crashes, Roll said, it was incidents involving aggressive driving and those involving the most vulnerable users on the road — pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists — that contributed most to the rise.
The aggressive-driver crashes are the result of human behavior and not issues the county can address with roadway improvements, Roll noted.
Wayne Dukes, chairman of the MPO, suggested that the older age of drivers in Hernando County might also be a contributor to the rise in wrecks.
The current widening project on Cortez is not going to make matters any better, said MPO member Diane Rowden.
"Getting into Starbucks is horrible,'' she said.
Accidents involving bicycles can also be the fault of the bicyclists, added member Nick Nicholson. He recounted a recent incident in which a rider on a bike with no lights was wearing dark clothing after dark; Nicholson said he nearly struck the bicyclist.
Roll said Hernando County's crash numbers are not as high as some in other counties in the area, and, if the problems persist, there are ways to address them. As an author of Hillsborough's bike safety action plan, Roll said that one solution there was the purchase of bike lighting kits because a large percentage of the county's traffic fatalities occurred at night when bike riders had no lights on their bicycles.
The consultant and county planners looked at the issues at the busy Cortez and Mariner intersection with an eye toward reconfiguring the lanes and considering whether the county would need to buy more right of way. Ultimately, they took a step back to see the bigger picture, Roll said.
They recommended that a broader study be done that could stretch down Mariner to Landover Boulevard and also include multiple intersections on Cortez.
"This is one of your major commercial nodes, and this needs to be more than just a look at the intersection. It needs to be a more comprehensive approach,'' Roll said.
MPO member Lara Bradburn suggested that, while the consultant was taking a larger look at traffic circulation in that area, the firm might consider improvements that would make it safer for bicyclists, too. She predicted that, with the sluggish economy, more people will continue to travel by bicycle to local businesses.
Rowden suggested that the study also look at the frontage road system — specifically how it connects High Point to the nearby commercial area.
Roll said those issues would all be considered.
In addition to the Mariner and Cortez intersection, Roll said, his firm had identified Hexam, Mondon Hill and Lake Lindsey roads as locations where there were "run off the road'' accidents and that fatalities had been reported on each of those roads.
He made no recommendations for improvements there because he said studies are "already in the pipeline.''
A study on configuring the interchange at I-75 and Cortez is also under way, Roll said, as part of the plan to widen the interstate to six lanes through Hernando County.
Suggestions to the Hernando school district have already been made to improve congestion and backup onto Northcliffe Boulevard at Explorer K-8 School, and the county is also working on additional solutions there, he said.
Roll also suggested that four intersections along U.S. 41 in Brooksville needed signs announcing that a signal was coming up: at Powell Road, Wiscon Road, State Road 50 and Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard.
"With our aging population, this is very helpful in helping them make decisions in terms of their approach,'' Roll said.
Bradburn pointed out that three of the four intersections already had state-approved signs warning motorists of the city's red-light cameras.
As more specific plans are developed for various projects, they will come back before the MPO for approval.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.