VALRICO — Residents from the Riverwoods subdivision off Bell Shoals Road staged a protest last week, and they're vowing to keep it going until the county changes its plans to widen Bell Shoals to four lanes.
The problem? The county's proposed redesign would leave Riverwoods residents on the west side of Bell Shoals with no way to turn left and travel north on the busy thoroughfare because of a new 22-foot wide concrete median.
They have that option now, but the redesign would require they turn right and make a U-turn in front of the River Rapids subdivision. If traveling north, Riverwoods residents would have to drive a quarter-mile past the entrance and make a U-turn in front of the Indian Hills subdivision entrance.
Riverwoods homeowners association president Ken Mackenzie said residents are frustrated because the county required left-turn access for subdivision approval in 2005 and residents covered the costs in the price of their homes.
"The county claims that U-turns are safer than the left turn/access lane situation as we have now, but all the studies we can find are studies dealing with six- to eight-lane roads," Mackenzie said. "Actually, the studies suggest that more research needs to be done on four-lane roads such as the proposed widening of Bell Shoals. The studies suggest that crossing two lanes into an access lane may be safer than U-turns."
The county says it recognizes residents may have concerns about the $19-million project. Steve Valdez, the county's public works spokesman, said the design is based on engineering criteria and traffic data, such as traffic counts, volumes and people coming in and out of the subdivision.
"Right now, our engineers are working with all the residents who have concerns and are trying to hear what those concerns are and look at the issues," Valdez said.
"We'll find out what the original justifications were, engineering-wise, and what, if any, alterations can be made within good engineering practices."