Friday, July 20, 2018
News Roundup

State plans roundabout for dangerous Hernando intersection

BROOKSVILLE — While setting up a presentation for the County Commission this week, county engineer Mark Guttman called the corner of U.S. 98 and Citrus Way "the infamous intersection.''

Others referred to it as the corner where motorists hold their breath and hope for the best.

And representatives of the state's Department of Transportation see the crossroads as an ongoing traffic conundrum where more than a half dozen people have lost their lives in recent years, including five in one fiery crash in 2015. Many of the fatal crashes and numerous serious-injury accidents have happened since flashing red and yellow lights were installed there in 2007.

But DOT's solution has some people raising their eyebrows: a rare-in-this-area traffic control device called a roundabout.

While County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he couldn't help but think of a movie scene featuring a Chevy Chase character trapped for hours in a London roundabout, he also said he could see the solution working at this site.

The roundabout would cut down on the number of serious and fatal crashes by eliminating the high-speed, T-bone or angle crashes that are the typical wrecks at the intersection, explained Matthew Nance, traffic safety specialist for the DOT. There were 22 such angle crashes there between 2012 and 2017, he said.

Roundabouts are still rare in Florida but news reports show that the DOT has been recommending the traffic control devices more frequently in recent years. A roundabout is a circular road at an intersection with no traffic signal. Traffic travels counterclockwise around the circle exiting the roadway with right turns onto the street of choice. Studies show that roundabouts reduce fatal crashes by up to 90 percent.

A video that Nance showed indicated that they are also better for bicycles and pedestrians, but the 98 and Citrus Way intersection gets little such traffic since it is in an undeveloped area.

The video demonstrated how roundabouts have worked at similar intersections, with significant truck traffic, in other central Florida counties.

"Trucks navigate them very well,'' said Nance, who also said the intersection does not have enough traffic to justify a standard traffic signal.

To determine the public's response to the idea, DOT officials will hold a public meeting on Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the north campus of the Pasco-Hernando State College.

A roundabout, Nicholson said, would slow everyone down and therefore cut down on serious accidents.

"I think this is a great idea,'' he said. "I don't see any negatives to this.''

Commissioner John Mitten was more leery about the idea of a roundabout because he has seen them malfunction in other countries. But, he noted, "it sounds like it might work if there was enough signage.''

One potential drawback of the plan is that the construction of such an intersection would take up more property, said former county commissioner Diane Rowden. She showed a video of an aerial view of the intersection shot by her husband, Jay, using their drone. With the video, she pointed out that the expanded intersection might have an impact on a store at the corner and the county's Little Rock Cannery on another corner.

DOT officials said it could take three years to make changes to the intersection if the idea is ultimately approved and funded.

Commissioner Steve Champion, who said he hated sitting at a full traffic signal when no traffic was at an intersection, noted that keeping traffic moving through a roundabout is "the perfect scenario.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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