TREASURE ISLAND — Facing strong resident opposition and growing questions over the validity of a study that found the St. James intersection dangerous, the City Commission backed away Tuesday from spending a potential $250,000 for a new traffic light.
Just a week ago, City Manager Reid Silverboard said there were safety concerns about the convergence of 104th, 107th and 108th avenues and urged the commission to approve a new traffic study that would examine specific solutions, including installing a traffic light, building a roundabout or changing traffic patterns downtown.
According to a preliminary study completed last summer, there were more than 40 accidents in the area in three years, enough to warrant a traffic signal.
But independent analysis during the past week by Commissioner Gail Caldwell, as well as a number of residents, found that most of those accidents did not occur in the intersection or even near it.
"Is that corner dangerous? It can be," Caldwell said, "but I think there is a less expensive way to address the problem, as simple as speed signs or no left turns. I am very leery of the need for a $250,000 traffic light."
Other commissioners were skeptical, too.
"It would be money poorly spent," said Phil Collins.
Mayor Bob Minning said he found the discrepancy between the actual number of accidents and the totals in the previous study "a little disturbing."
Commissioner Alan Bildz initially favored paying for the more in-depth study of what he called a "dangerous intersection."
But after listening to Caldwell's analysis and similar testimony from residents, he, too, changed his mind.
Resident after resident protested the proposed new traffic study.
"I implore you, do not move forward with this thing," said former Commissioner Ed Gayton, citing the results of his own investigation that showed only one accident at the intersection itself in the past three years.
Former Mayor Julian Fant suggested it would be much cheaper to improve visibility in the intersection by removing some bushes and trees than spending taxpayer money on a study that might not be acted on.
Mitchell Shenkman said "spending $25,000 right now is a little bit premature," and pointed out that the city's visioning committee is in the midst of reviewing ideas for the city's future.
Resident Clyde Smith called the lengthy debate "a real testament" to the city's political system and the ability of citizens to give their opinions.
On that note, the commission did not bring the proposed traffic study up for a formal vote.