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Residents wary of plans to upgrade Lithia-Pinecrest

BRANDON — Lithia-Pinecrest Road has failed.

It received an "F" from the county in 2007, and it regularly shows up on the Sheriff's Office's list of top accident locations.

Some residents blame new developments for dumping more traffic on the already congested roads.

But whatever the cause, they want the county to fix it.

The public works department recently completed a study of Lithia-Pinecrest Road from State Road 60 to County Road 39, which points out areas to fix. The bad news: The county doesn't have enough money to upgrade everything.

Instead, planners are directing about $5-million to the busy intersection of Lithia-Pinecrest and Lumsden roads, which include two roads that branch off nearby: Durant Avenue and Bell Shoals Road.

That intersection is "a safety nightmare," county planner John Patrick said. It has about 17 percent more traffic than it was designed to handle.

The changes aren't finalized, but planners have several goals. They hope to cul-de-sac Durant where it meets Lumsden, and Bell Shoals at Lithia-Pinecrest. They also plan to add turn lanes to Lumsden and Lithia-Pinecrest roads.

Other possible changes could include building two new roads, one from Lithia-Pinecrest Road east to Durant Avenue and another west to Bell Shoals Road.

At a neighborhood meeting May 14, project manager Reg Alford stood next to a sign that showed the two roads cutting through some residents' lots and told about 70 people that the county isn't proposing eminent domain yet.

Preliminary plans show the roads running between Valmar Street and Hummingbird Lane, though Alford said those plans aren't on the table now.

"We have a lot of people talking about the cut-throughs," he said. "We are not proposing those at this time."

Bob and Lois Kershner live along Bell Shoals Road, where the roads would run according to the preliminary plans. They're afraid the county will force them to move, and they organized the neighborhood meeting so residents could learn about the county's plans.

"It's like being in the middle of the country here," Bob Kershner said. "We have foxes and red-tailed hawks, but there won't be anything left."

It will be at least two years before the roads are built, Alford said, and residents will have a chance to review the design and talk to planners at a public meeting after the designs are drawn. Their concerns will be considered, but Alford said the roads are needed.

"Lithia-Pinecrest is a level of service of F. It's a failed road," Alford said. "In order to get to a level service of a C, the additional roads would be necessary."

Alford tried to focus discussion on the cul-de-sacs, which also upset some residents.

"If we disagree with the cul-de-sac, who do we contact to try to slow this down?" asked Robert Rosedale, who lives near where the Durant Road cul-de-sac would be located.

But before he could get an answer, a woman yelled out: "As a group, we should be able to slow this down."

People nodded their heads and started talking. No answer.

Some residents voiced their own ideas, such as building a road through nearby pasture land. But that land is slated for residential development, so that won't work, Alford said. Another idea: Make Bell Shoals Road and Durant Avenue accessible only by making right turns in or out, instead of just cutting them off.

Jess Johnson, County Commissioner Al Higginbotham's senior aide, said he'd take the right-in, right-out idea back to his boss. But after the meeting, Frank Scerbo, from planning firm CH2M Hill, said it's expensive and time-consuming to try that idea because it has to go through planning and evaluation stages, which could take years.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Residents wary of plans to upgrade Lithia-Pinecrest 05/22/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 24, 2008 2:02pm]
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