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Chamber seeking a better-lighted path

The Ruskin Chamber of Commerce is about to ask county officials publicly for better lighting on U.S. 41. Chamber officials say the only lighting on the road now comes from storefronts, traffic signals and in another month or so, Christmas decorations.

On Nov. 7, business leaders in this tomato-growing community will ask the Hillsborough County Commission to support street lights like the kind illuminating Gibsonton and other nearby communities.

"We don't think we should have to wait until pedestrians are killed," said Karen Todd, chamber president, at a news conference on Tuesday.

The Chamber has been asking quietly for street lights since shortly before June 1989, when two people died in traffic accidents on the road.

Before that, businessowners on U.S. 41 paid for "safety" lights, on a voluntary basis. But some of those businessowners moved away and others grew tired of paying the electric bills.

Last year, the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) studied traffic levels and determined that the road was busy enough to receive lights as part of the DOT's new five-year work plan.

But the DOT said it cannot install the lights unless the county agrees to pay the maintenance costs, which include electric bills.

Chamber officials estimate it would cost the county roughly $10,000 a year to support 63 street lights on the 1.8-mile stretch of the highway.

No one could be reached in the county engineering department to verify that cost figure. But county officials said that as of now, they cannot justify the expense.

"Our policy is to provide the lighting only if there is a demonstrated safety need," said Greg Prytyka, manager of the county traffic engineering department. "At this point, the DOT has not indicated a safety need along that road."

DOT area secretary Bill McDaniel could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

County officials also said it will be tough to find money for the street lights, given this year's budget difficulties.

"Money is tight," said Les Eighmey, director of the roads department. "Various groups have requested street lighting this year. But once you put them up, it's a perpetual expense to keep them on."