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Lower speed urged for U.S. 19

Crystal River Police Chief Roger Krieger wants drivers to ease off the gas pedal and slow down as they pass through town on U.S. 19. While stopping short of calling the highway dangerous, Krieger said the increased traffic on U.S. 19 is making it harder to make left turns.

"I'm not out there trying to write a lot of tickets to harass people," he said. "I'm just trying to keep people from getting killed out there."

What Krieger wants to see is the current 40-mph speed limit in the busiest section of U.S. 19 extended in both directions. The step-down zones, where the speed limit decreases from 55 to 50 to 45 mph, need to be pushed out because they have become more congested.

"There's really nothing wrong with the speed limits except for the fact that the city has grown out into the step-down areas," he said.

The new Crystal River Mall is along the step-down zone for drivers entering Crystal River from the north.

Speed limits on U.S. 19 are determined by the state Department of Transportation (DOT). Krieger is seeking City Council approval to ask DOT for a speed study, which would determine the best speed limit based on congestion, pedestrian traffic and accident history.

The study generally can be completed within 60 days, after which the new speed limits _ if deemed necessary _ are posted, said George Gilhooley, traffic operations engineer for the 10-county DOT district that includes Citrus.

Slower speed limits are not necessarily safer, Gilhooley said. If the limit is too low for the volume of traffic, drivers will weave in and out to pass slower-moving vehicles. The safest situation is when all vehicles move at the same speed, he said.

Krieger's push reflects what seems to be an inevitable slowing down of traffic on U.S. 19. Two traffic signals have been installed at the Crystal River Mall.

Although a far cry from congested Pinellas and Pasco counties, traffic is increasing on Crystal River's stretch of U.S. 19.

"What you've got is typical growth without planning, which is happening all over the country," Krieger said.

In 1989, 28,000 vehicles a day traveled on U.S. 19 just south of the State Road 44 intersection, according to DOT traffic counts. Farther north, 16,000 vehicles passed by the City Council chambers daily.

Krieger said a limited public transportation system could work in the County.

"With our aging society, we've got to start looking at alternatives," he said.