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For now, median won't go on SR 44

The "Chicken Lane" is here to stay.

Bowing to a group of business owners on State Road 44, the state Department of Transportation promised Wednesday to scrap plans to build a raised concrete divider along a 2-mile commercial strip just west of Inverness.

"They had some valid points," Bill McDaniel, secretary of the DOT's Tampa office, said. "Not only was the public heard, it was listened to."

The DOT had planned the median as part of the ongoing project to widen the remaining two-lane sections of the road to four lanes. Agency engineers said the divider would improve safety in the stretch between County Road 581 and the Citrus Center Shopping Center.

But business leaders objected. They said the divider would reduce customer traffic. And they said large delivery trucks could not make U-turns, even after the road was widened, to reach their businesses.

They requested, instead, a fifth, center turning lane. They noted the new, 2.2-mile section of SR 44 through downtown Inverness that was completed in 1993 has one. They also noted the original plans for the 2-mile stretch west of CR 581 also called for a turning lane, which some call a "chicken lane" because cars making left turns sometimes approach one another head on.

The business leaders enlisted the help of state Sen. Karen Johnson, D-Inverness, and DOT officials conducted a tour and public hearing last month.

The state has a general policy encouraging raised medians and discouraging turning lanes in urban stretches of road. But the DOT's McDaniel said the agency waived the policy and changed the design because the situation in Inverness was unusual.

The stretch in question lacks parallel side streets that large trucks could use to make U-turns, he said.

However, the agency might again reverse itself and install a median through Inverness if safety problems arise.

"With the level of traffic they have, I don't see that happening for at least 10 years," McDaniel said.

The design of the road widening still will include a grassy median for rural stretches west of the Citrus Center.