TAMPA — One of the deadliest roads in one of the deadliest metro areas in the country for pedestrians is getting a safety upgrade, but residents and local officials are calling for more.
Florida Department of Transportation and Tampa officials said Tuesday they are working to put a crosswalk with its own traffic signal on E Hillsborough Avenue where two Middleton High School students were killed in the last three years.
"There have been a lot of heavy hearts thinking about Hillsborough Avenue," Tampa transportation manager Jean Duncan told about 50 local officials, law enforcement officers and residents at FDOT's district office in Tampa.
The statistics for the six-lane state road are grim: From 2008 to 2012, there have been 21 pedestrian- and bicycle-related crashes on Hillsborough between N 22nd Street and N 30th Street.
On the north side of the road are the Meridian Pointe Apartments. On the south side is the Tampa Festival Centre shopping plaza and, a little further to the south, Middleton High. There is no crosswalk.
Shenika Davis, 15, died in 2011. Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, 15, died last month. William Hogan, 18, was critically injured last week. All were trying to cross Hillsborough when they were struck, the two girls near Meridian Pointe, Hogan farther east at N 40th Street.
The latest two accidents provoked a community uproar. On Monday, the mothers of Hogan and Velasquez-Cabrera tearfully pleaded for improvements at a roadside rally. Elected city, county, state and School Board officials stood by in support.
The crosswalk is planned for the 2500 block of Hillsborough, between the apartments and shopping center.
But officials warned it could take up to 16 months to install. They have to secure a bit more right of way for the pole. They have to make sure the pole won't interfere with underground utilities. And, because each intersections is a little different, the pole and the arm that holds the stoplight have to be made to order.
In the meantime, officials said Tuesday that they will continue to focus on the three E's of pedestrian safety — engineering, enforcement and education.
In recent years, there has been effort and money spent on all three. FDOT's office in Tampa put up $1.3 million in 2012 and 2013 to pay overtime for officers and deputies working to reduce conflicts between drivers and pedestrians. That money went to 12 police agencies around the Tampa Bay area, with $200,000 each going to the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
FDOT has raised medians along Hillsborough and added "high emphasis" crosswalks, flashing beacons and yield-to-pedestrian signs, spending $1 million since 2011.
And hundreds of thousands of dollars has gone into media campaigns, community outreach and school programs to promote crosswalks and pedestrian safety.
All three areas are key, officials say. Consider education: More than 28 percent of the accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists on E Hillsborough took place at night. Both girls who died were crossing in dim light in dark clothing, and all three teens were struck outside a crosswalk.
A neighborhood leader said the signal will help, but wants to see other, immediate steps taken before the stoplight goes up.
"I've had my near-misses with people with baby carriages trying to cross that street," said Michael Dove, the president of the Live Oaks Square Neighborhood Association.
"Sixteen months is great, but we've already lost two kids, maybe three, so what are we going to do today?" Dove said. "If we can't do anything today, then I believe we're failing the residents of the area."
Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr. said he appreciated the plan for the signalized crosswalk at the Meridian Pointe Apartments.
But Miller said he sees similar problems all along Hillsborough and asked FDOT to consider crosswalks for Hillsborough from Nebraska Avenue east to N 50th Street. "I understand the immediate need at Meridian Pointe," he said, "but eventually somebody's going to get killed … so let's start working on it."