EAST LAKE — The Crescent Oaks subdivision is the very picture of a safe and quiet neighborhood, with a gated checkpoint on the way in, finely manicured lawns and even some wild turkeys that amble about.
But escaping from Crescent Oaks can be terrifying.
When people drive out of Crescent Oaks Boulevard and turn left across East Lake Road to go south, they must zip across two lanes of often-busy traffic, all the while hoping that no one else zooms down from the north just in time to cut in front of them.
"It's like playing Russian roulette every time you cross that road," said John Miolla, 73, president of the Crescent Oaks Community Association.
Residents have been fighting for a traffic light for years, only to be disappointed. But after three wrecks in recent months, they are trying again.
Crescent Oaks' 440 homes are on the east side of East Lake Road, just north of Keystone Road and just south of the Pasco County line. The only way in or out is through the intersection of Crescent Oaks Boulevard and East Lake Road.
Upset about the headaches and dangers, residents piled into County Commission chambers back in 2006 to demand a traffic light at the intersection. After much study, commissioners agreed in December 2006 to install one — with one catch: Residents would have to pay the cost of designing, installing and purchasing the traffic light, estimated at $150,000 to $200,000.
Although Crescent Oaks is a well-to-do community with many residents, coming up with $200,000 was a tall order. Resident Bob Loos, 65, a retired lawyer and longtime advocate for a traffic light, said the association's bylaws do not allow it to assess homeowners for a capital expense outside the neighborhood's "common area."
Part of the rationale for making the residents pay is that Crescent Oaks Boulevard is a private road that's not maintained by the county. Then-County Administrator Steve Spratt said at the time that the traffic light "is to benefit that particular area" and therefore Crescent Oaks should pay the cost.
But Loos and Miolla said the traffic light would serve a public purpose beyond their neighborhood, by making things safer for the thousands who drive East Lake Road.
At rush hour on a recent afternoon, Loos pointed to show the traffic problems that arise at the intersection.
A car traveling south on four-lane East Lake Road pulled into a turn lane and waited for traffic to clear so that it could cross the remaining two lanes of traffic and go into the subdivision.
But this created a vexing problem for drivers waiting to go out of the subdivision. They needed to cross two lanes of traffic and wait in a median opening in the middle of East Lake Road — right across the path of the car waiting to come in.
As if that weren't enough, the drivers leaving the subdivision also needed to get past the northbound traffic on East Lake Road, which doesn't let up much during the afternoon and evening rush hour.
After seeing three wrecks at the intersection in the past couple of months, dozens of residents began emailing county commissioners and asking them to reopen the matter.
At least one commissioner, Neil Brickfield, thinks it's time for another look. He has urged county staff to update its traffic studies on the intersection more quickly than originally planned.
Brickfield was not on the commission in 2006 when residents were told they would have to pay for the light, but he said it's clear some things have changed since then. The golf course in Crescent Oaks has now opened to the public, and Keystone Road is being widened to handle more traffic. Plus, there were the recent wrecks.
"We need to be looking at this now," Brickfield said. He said he doesn't want to wait for more crashes to happen "just to prove we need a light."
He said he intends to discuss the matter at a County Commission meeting Tuesday but that a more extensive report and discussion will come later.
The traffic light would certainly make things more convenient for people who want to get in and out of their Crescent Oaks homes. But to resident Christine Wixted, 66, it's more than that.
Eight years ago, while leaving Crescent Oaks and turning south onto East Lake Road, her car was struck by a pickup. "I was in the hospital for a couple months," she said.
Now, she still doesn't want to drive out of her home at rush hour. She's worried about "too many cars going too fast, and it's an accident waiting to happen." Because of how the intersection is set up, "cars crisscross and nobody knows what to do," she said.
The answer, she believes, is a traffic light.
"It's not convenience, it's not about waiting," she said. "It's just safety."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or [email protected]