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Deadly Brooksville intersection eludes fast solution

A quirky — and dangerous — intersection at U.S. 98 and Citrus Way has claimed two lives and been the scene of 17 collisions since 2006. The state Department of Transportation says that’s not enough to warrant a four-way traffic signal, which would cost about $100,000 to build and maintain.

RON THOMPSON | Times

A quirky — and dangerous — intersection at U.S. 98 and Citrus Way has claimed two lives and been the scene of 17 collisions since 2006. The state Department of Transportation says that’s not enough to warrant a four-way traffic signal, which would cost about $100,000 to build and maintain.

BROOKSVILLE — For nearly three years, convenience store owner Vaikunta Gulivindala has tried to get the government to stop the bloodshed at his front door.

Gulivindala's store sits at the northeast corner of the squashed-X-shaped intersection of U.S. 98 and Citrus Way, where heavily laden trucks regularly roar down the highway as motorists on the country road try to sneak across.

Sometimes, they don't make it, leaving smashed vehicles and torn bodies strewn across the highway.

"I left New York for peace and quiet," Gulivindala said. "But I get people dying all the time."

His efforts to get a four-way stoplight installed have failed, for a gruesome reason: Not enough people have been killed or maimed there to warrant the expense of a traffic light.

But help seemed to be on the way when Hernando County recently announced it was receiving millions of federal stimulus dollars for road projects.

Topping the list of projects is Citrus Way, which will get $3.3 million.

All of that money, however, is ticketed for repaving the road about 3 miles south of the dangerous intersection.

Not a nickel is expected to be used to erect a traffic light.

"The money given to us is for shovel-ready projects," said Charles Mixson, Hernando County's public works director. "That traffic light, if it happens, is not a project that could happen tomorrow."

Mixson said the $3.3 million will be used on the southern part of Citrus Way, from Fort Dade Avenue to Kensington Road. Although the intersection with U.S. 98 is on the same road, it would be considered two separate projects.

County Commissioner Jim Adkins sees the situation differently.

"I don't see why we can't use some of that money to build a stoplight," Adkins said Thursday. "That intersection is a big problem and it's on the top of my list."

Adkins said he has submitted a proposal to the Florida Department of Transportation and hopes the project will be approved soon.

"This is a big deal," he said. "It certainly warrants a light.''

Larry Kraus, public affairs officer for the Florida Highway Patrol, said every death is important, but the intersection may not be busy enough to have a traffic light.

The intersection has seen 17 reported collisions and 33 injuries since 2006, according to the state DOT. Two of the crashes were fatal.

Last month's crash involving a truck and a Chevrolet Monte Carlo left one man, Robert Hardemon, 48, dead.

"Less than 10 crashes a year is a pretty average amount," Kraus said. "There is not a big reason to install a light right now."

Kraus said there no specific threshold for deciding whether to place a traffic light, but factors including pedestrians, delays, and population are taken into consideration when making a decision.

"It would be very expensive to build and maintain a traffic light," Mixson said.

Traffic lights typically cost more than $100,000 to build and maintain, according to Kris Carson of the state DOT.

In 2007, Gulivindala collected more than 100 signatures on a petition for a traffic light at the intersection. That led to a flashing light — red on Citrus Way, amber on U.S. 98 — being installed.

"That flashing light is not enough," Gulivindala said outside his RMG General Store. "People are still being hurt all the time."

Gulivindala, who left a career on Wall Street after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said he believes the crashes are not entirely the drivers' fault. He blames the layout of the intersection.

Drivers heading north on Citrus Way have to twist around to see traffic heading west on U.S. 98. A rise just east of the intersection has fast-moving vehicles popping into view just before they reach the crossroads.

"We'd like to have the intersection on a 90-degree angle," Mixson said. "That way more drivers can see from all sides."

Mixson suggested less-expensive methods of improving the conditions at the intersection, such as re-striping the pavement or adding another road sign to inform drivers of the unique cross way.

Gulivindala has sent e-mails to public officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, but all requests were unanswered or denied.

He is gathering signatures on another petition to Crist; this one has more than 400 signatures.

Hernando County has also been conducting traffic counts along Citrus Way, Mixson said. The information will be sent to the DOT.

In the meantime, the county is preparing to begin paving the road not far from the intersection. Ironically, one reason for paving is to improve traffic safety.

"This road may not be the biggest in Hernando, but every life is important,'' Gulivindala said. "The family of the man who died last month are my customers. I don't want to see any more lives lost."

Ryan Strong can be reached at (352) 848- 1432 or at rstrong@sptimes.com

$3.3M stimulus dollars the county will receive to repave Citrus Way.

17 number of collisions at U.S. 98 and Citrus Way since 2006.

33 number of people injured in crashes at U.S. 98 and Citrus Way since 2006.

Deadly Brooksville intersection eludes fast solution 07/31/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 8:36pm]
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