Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco commissioners approve safety improvements to Moon Lake Road

DADE CITY — Courtney Little and Kimberlee Markou would have been in the midst of their senior year at River Ridge High School if not for an accident in July on a stretch of Moon Lake Road that claimed the teens' lives.

Now, after hearing safety reports and a recommendation from county engineers, Pasco commissioners are taking steps that they hope address longstanding safety problems on the winding high-speed road.

After a presentation by staff, commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to spend $2.2 million on improvements to parts of Moon Lake Road — including repaving a stretch and adding a foot of shoulder to both sides of the highway.

Other improvements include warning signs, road striping, solar-powered flashing yellow lights and rumble devices embedded into the pavement to warn drivers when their car is veering off the road or toward oncoming traffic.

Parents of the two teens said they're grateful at least something is being done four months after the car that Little and Markou were riding in spun out of control and into the path of an sport utility vehicle.

"Anything they do will be an improvement, but I don't think it's sufficient for what that road needs," parent Tim Little, a Pasco sheriff's deputy, said after the vote. "A widening is really what is needed for that road."

The parents blame poor road conditions for contributing to the deadly July 2 crash, in particular a 6-inch drop-off at the edge of the pavement and the road surface itself, which was slippery after a recent storm.

A state Department of Transportation safety study showed 155 crashes occurred on Moon Lake Road, including 51 with injuries and two fatalities, during the three years from 2010 to 2012.

Of that total, 37 percent of the crashes involved vehicles going off the road and 11 percent occurred during wet road conditions. Twenty-three percent happened on a curve.

The parents believe the girls' Chevrolet sedan might have over-corrected after dropping off the edge of the road near Bethwood Avenue, causing it to skid into oncoming traffic.

As the car veered to the left, a Dodge SUV traveling north on Moon Lake Road crashed into the sedan's passenger side, killing the girls.

While the parents applauded the safety enhancements, they said they don't go far enough to correct larger issues.

Like Tim Little, parent Laura Markou said she believes the best solution is to widen the road to four lanes and redesign it to remove sharp curves and blind spots.

"What I've heard is that the puddling of water, the hydroplaning, is another problem and that whatever they do I think that needs to be addressed," Markou said.

The resurfacing will run from Ridge Road to Nassau Drive, about a quarter-mile south of State Road 52. The work will involve milling the pavement and laying 2 ½ inches of fresh asphalt. A left-turn lane is planned from southbound Moon Lake Road to Bethwood Avenue.

County staff said the work will start in 120 days and last three to four months.

Long-range plans call for widening the highway to four lanes at a cost of about $30 million, but that project isn't set to start until 2026.

Commission Chairman Jack Mariano asked, however, whether the project could be done in phases so that the stretch from Ridge to Bethwood could be widened in a year or two. Officials said they would study the issue and report back to commissioners.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners:

• Rejected a $1.2 million federal grant to hire officers for Pasco County schools. The grant was rejected on the advice of staff because it required a $1.5 million match by the school district.

• Approved naming Mariano as commission chairman. Commissioner Henry Wilson was named vice chairman. And commissioners confirmed the appointment of Annette Stahura as budget director after she served as interim budget director.

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