CLEARWATER — The recent death of a school crossing guard has pushed the bureaucracy into high gear to improve one of Pinellas County's most crash-prone intersections.
Florida Department of Transportation officials plan to release a draft report next week on how to make the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road safer.
The report will be based on recommendations from a department consultant and officials with the county, the city of Clearwater and the Police Department who visited the intersection Tuesday, said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.
The urgency came at the request of local elected officials who asked the DOT to act quickly after the May 20 death of crossing guard Douglas Carey.
The 70-year-old retired police officer was killed when a Cadillac traveling at 70 mph ran a red light, collided with another car and barreled into him.
State Rep. Ed Hooper of Clearwater noted that City Council members had expressed concerns about the intersection long before that.
"Unfortunately, it took the fatality of a school crossing guard to percolate that up to this level," he told the Metropolitan Planning Organization board at its meeting Wednesday. "We're not going to drop the ball."
About 80,000 cars pass through the intersection every day. From January 2009 to December 2013, 153 crashes occurred there, one of them fatal and 13 caused "incapacitating" injuries, according to the traffic study. Of the crashes, 68 were rear-end collisions and 39 were left turn or angled.
That last number caught the attention of transportation planners. Drivers with solid green signals turn in front of oncoming traffic when the lights are green, yellow and even red, said DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.
"I think people are getting very frustrated because they are waiting so long, and they're taking chances," she said.
One solution might be to adjust the timing of the left turn green arrows at the intersection, though that could cause traffic to back up farther, Carson said. The city of Clearwater is already planning to install sensors in the pavement later this year that adjust the signal durations in real time based on the traffic.
Police have stepped up their presence, ticketing speeders and handing out citations. But even that's difficult because the congestion means officers have nowhere to set up, Carson said.