Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Transportation

Safety fixes coming to Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road intersection

CLEARWATER — Changes are on the way for one of Pinellas County's most crash-prone intersections.

The Florida Department of Transportation on Thursday released a preliminary list of ideas to make the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Belcher Road safer for motorists and pedestrians.

Most of the 10 suggestions can be done relatively quickly, department spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

"Simple changes, we think, can make a big difference," Carson said.

The department plans to study the timing on the traffic signals and adjust them accordingly. A five-year traffic study shows a large number of crashes occurring at the intersection when vehicles are turning, so one solution could be to change when and how often drivers get green turn arrows, Carson said.

Another idea is to install new signals that use flashing yellow turn arrows to emphasize the need for caution.

Pedestrians also get impatient and cross against the light, so one of the goals will be to reduce wait times for them, Carson said.

"It's really a balancing act to make sure we have enough time for the cars to get through the intersection but also making sure the pedestrians remain safe," she said.

Other ideas: refurbish worn pavement markings including crosswalks and stop bars; move the signs warning drivers of traffic cameras farther from the intersection; and upgrade the lights on the bottom of the signals to make them more visible to police officers who use them to determine if a driver ran a red light.

Local officials have long sought help making the intersection safer, but there was a renewed sense of urgency after the May 20 death of crossing guard Douglas Carey. The 70-year-old retired police officer was killed when a car ran a red light at 70 mph, collided with another car and barreling into him.

The DOT was already planning to replace the signals dangling from wires with steel mast arms and resurface that stretch of Gulf-to-Bay, though that work likely won't be complete until 2016. As part of that project, engineers will try to extend the length of the turn lane for westbound traffic turning south onto Belcher and widen the sidewalk on the southeast corner, Carson said.

The city of Clearwater also plans to install sensors in the pavement later this year that adjust signal cycles based on traffic.

A major overhaul of the intersection would likely be difficult and costly because of the lack of existing right-of-way. The city had previously looked into acquiring some right-of-way from the CVS at the northeast corner to widen the intersection and create a turn lane, but CVS was cool to the idea of selling off some of its property there, City Manager Bill Horne said.

Belcher is a county road, so some of the improvements might fall to Pinellas.

"Whatever they come up with that's deemed county responsibility, we're on board to make it safer," said county traffic engineer Tom Washburn.

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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