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SR 44 medians divide state, businesses

The expansion of State Road 44 has caused some headaches for businesses along the busy corridor, but shop owners say the real trouble may start when the work is finished in early 1997.

Business owners fear that the state's plans to put in concrete and grass medians west of County Road 581 will limit access to their property and endanger drivers who will have to make U-turns to get to businesses on the other side of the street.

State Department of Transportation officials, who contend the medians are being added to improve safety, will address the concerns at a public meeting Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lecanto Middle School.

Charles Rowland, who owns Citrus Tire Center, said the only thing he wants to hear is that the medians won't be built.

He and other business owners in the area have collected about 150 signatures opposing the medians, which are part of the overall widening of SR 44 from two lanes to four.

"So far, they haven't offered us any remedy for our concerns," Rowland said. "We figure if the wheel squeaks enough, someone is going to have to put some grease on it."

The state has proposed concrete medians in so-called "urban" areas, with cuts every quarter of a mile, and a grass median along the rural stretch of SR 44 between Inverness and Crystal River.

Rowland and others want the state to consider putting in a fifth, turn lane instead of a median and lowering the speed limit to 35 mph in some places.

"Our primary concern is the safety of our customers," he said. "To say that making a U-turn at 45 mph is safer than making a left turn from a turn lane is crazy."

State officials disagree. They say a continuous turn lane for both directions of traffic is potentially deadly, even if the speed limit is reduced.

"It increases your chance of a head-on collision," said DOT spokesman Darrel Jarmon. "The medians were designed out there with safety in mind."

Although the work is already under way, Jarmon said it is not too late to make changes in the design if there is a safety issue that has been overlooked.

"If they are going to tell us something we haven't thought of, we're happy to listen," he said. "We cannot ignore the concerns of the business people, but we want to build the safest roadway possible."

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