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SR 44 intersection to get traffic light

One traffic light down, one median to go.

A group of businesses on State Road 44 scored a victory this week when the state Department of Transportation agreed to install a traffic light at the intersection with Independence Highway.

It is one of the most dangerous intersections in the county, and the businesses had lobbied the DOT to reverse previous decisions not to install the light.

Although the businesses were grateful for improved safety, one owner Tuesday called the announcement a "bone" to deter them from an even dearer lobbying goal: getting the state not to install a median on SR 44 near their businesses.

And Tuesday, the business owners asked for, and got, some additional lobbying support from the County Commission.

The state plans to build the raised concrete divider through a business district west of County Road 581 as part of the ongoing project to widen the road from two lanes to four by 1997.

The business owners fear a raised concrete divider will stop traffic and customers from reaching their driveways. They say it will endanger drivers making U-turns.

They favor the existing open center turn-lane.

"It (a center turn-lane) was in the original design and it was taken out," said Charles Clendenny, owner of CRC Fence. "The city (of Inverness) opposes this, the School Board opposes this, so why are they doing it?"

The DOT has said the median is a common and necessary safety measure. The agency has so far refused to revise the plans. The two sides will square off at a public hearing today from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lecanto Middle School.

At Clendenny's request, the County Commission on Tuesday endorsed a letter to the DOT that said most of the 20,000 vehicles a day that would travel that stretch of the road are local and would probably make U-turns to get to area businesses.

The letter, drafted by county technical services director James Pinkerton, also said a center turn-lane would be just as safe as a median if the speed limit there were lowered to 40 mph.

State Sen. Karen Johnson, D-Inverness, also has lobbied DOT against the median.

Meanwhile, there is mixed news about the traffic light promised for SR 44 and Independence Highway.

The good news is that the signal will improve one of the most dangerous intersections in the county. Inverness police recorded 15 accidents between January 1994 and May.

"I think everybody on this side of the county has had a near miss there at one time or another," said Lee Lyvers. A broker and owner of the Marie Powell Better Homes and Gardens real estate agency, Lyvers helped mount a petition drive in support of the light.

The bad news, however, is the installation will not take place immediately. In a letter last week to Johnson, the agency promised the light but didn't say when it would be installed.

A DOT spokesman could not answer that question Tuesday. But Johnson said she believes the work will be done closer to the end of the widening project in 1997.

That way, the traffic light won't have to be moved repeatedly as temporary traffic lanes are moved to accommodate construction, she said.