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Widening proposal wins favor, flareup

The long-running battle between the School Board and the Inverness City Council over the widening of Montgomery Avenue ended _ but not without one last flareup. The council and the board agreed Tuesday night to a land swap that has the board giving up 50 feet of right of way along Montgomery, from State Road 44 to Highland Boulevard. The city needs the land in order to widen the road to four lanes.

The city gives up a 50-foot-wide easement along South Boulevard.

After the board agreed to the swap on May 28, School Superintendent Carl Austin sent a memo to City Manager Bruce Banning spelling out the board's wishes.

The council had no problems Tuesday night with two of the three conditions that the board set: that the city commit to four-laning Montgomery Avenue, and provide documented proof that the swap was taking place.

But council member Walter Cannon complained about a third point, in which the board asked that left turns be allowed onto Montgomery once the swap takes place.

Cannon, who led the fight with the board over the right of way, said that condition could take away the city's right to regulate traffic there.

"We reserve unto ourselves the right to regulate traffic on the highway," he said.

City Attorney Jeanette Haag suggested that the School Board wasn't asking the council to surrender any control over how traffic on the road is handled but simply to allow left turns once the additional lanes have been added to Montgomery Avenue.

"I think what they're trying to get at is the concept of left turns as part of four-laning," she said.

If allowing left turns leads to traffic accidents on the busy road, the city can cite those accidents as grounds to discontinue the left turns, she said.

Cannon still was uneasy, saying, "Trying to prove something to someone who doesn't want to understand, it isn't easy."

He wasn't completely critical of the School Board, however.

"I certainly commend them for trying to bring this to a rapid conclusion, and I fully concur with the swap," he said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the swap, although members got so carried away talking about the conditions, weight restrictions and ingresses and egresses that they nearly forgot to vote on the basic proposal.

Banning said Tuesday a date to begin widening hadn't been set.