HUDSON — Commissioner Jack Mariano hears all about the traffic from residents of Leisure Beach and the folks in Country Club Estates. Mariano, who lives in Beacon Woods, sees the problem for himself every day.
Many shoppers leaving the Walmart at Beacon Woods Drive cut across U.S. 19 to make a U-turn at Beach Boulevard, making it difficult for Leisure Beach residents to pull out of their own neighborhood. Country Club Estates residents have a hard time getting across U.S. 19 to go south at all. And Beacon Woods residents can't get into the Walmart or return to their neighborhood without going out to U.S. 19.
"It's just nonsensical the way it's set up," Mariano said.
Mariano has been lobbying — so far unsuccessfully — for a traffic signal at U.S. 19 and Beach Boulevard, just north of the Walmart. The state Department of Transportation has studied the vehicle counts and crash data and says a signal isn't warranted.
But in a Feb. 7 letter to Mariano, the DOT suggests other improvements. Among them: Allowing full access to the store from Beacon Woods Drive.
DOT studies found that 11 percent of the U-turns being made at U.S. 19 and Beach Boulevard are Walmart shoppers trying to get back into Beacon Woods, wrote Debbie Hunt, the agency's director of transportation development.
Hunt recommended that Beacon Woods Drive be "reconfigured to provide for direct access from the Wal-Mart into the Beacon Woods community." She said that would reduce the number of U-turns in front of Leisure Beach and allow Beacon Woods residents to get in and out of the store without venturing onto U.S. 19.
Any changes to Beacon Woods Drive would be up to county officials, who are weighing all the options. Mariano said he shared DOT's suggestions with Leisure Beach residents at a recent neighborhood meeting, and spoke with the president of the Beacon Woods Civic Association. He's also in touch with the folks at Country Club Estates.
Mariano said he wants to bring everyone to the table before any decisions are made.
"If people get wind of what's going on, they can step up and voice their opinions," he said. "I don't want to do this behind the scenes."
State and county officials agreed on the original traffic plan back in 2006, when a group of Beacon Woods residents lobbied for limited access to Beacon Woods Drive, fearing the Walmart would bring cut-through traffic into the neighborhood.
"It's been several years now," Mariano said. "It's been enough time for people in Beacon Woods to see if they like the effect of it."
Hunt acknowledged those Beacon Woods residents' concerns in her Feb. 7 letter. But she said cutting through the neighborhood is such a "circuitous route" to Little Road, she doubts many motorists would take it. And she said traffic-calming measures, such as speed tables, could be added to the neighborhood.
Other suggestions offered by DOT:
• Create a dedicated lane on U.S. 19 for Leisure Beach residents turning right onto the highway to reduce the risk of collision with drivers making U-turns at Beach Boulevard.
• Restrict the median opening at U.S. 19 and Leisure Beach/DiPaola Drive so cars aren't converging in that opening from multiple directions.
• Provide direct access from Country Club Estates to Walmart, so those residents can access the store without making two left turns on U.S. 19.
• Extend First Isle Drive in Leisure Beach further south, so it can link up to the signal at U.S. 19 and Beacon Woods Drive.
Those are all just ideas at this point. Mariano said it's important for all of the affected communities to offer their input so the county can determine which improvements to make.
"It's not a perfect situation, and there's not a perfect engineering solution to this," Mariano said. "That's why it's just important to get everybody involved."