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Speed limit on SR 200 will not be lowered

Some drivers hit speeds of 75 mph on State Road 200 in Citrus County, but the state Department of Transportation has decided not to lower the speed limit, going against residents' wishes.

A group of residents who live and work near the highway signed petitions in May asking the DOT to lower the speed limit from 55 mph to 35 mph on the road's 1-mile stretch through Apache Shores.

The petition drive followed the May 8 death of Monica Gianferrara, 19, who died in a head-on traffic accident.

In addition, residents have complained about the number of accidents at the intersections with a dozen small residential sidestreets in the area.

"It just burns me up," said Chester Wheeler, a locksmith who collected about 300 signatures in favor of a lower speed limit. "Common sense will tell you if you're driving slower, your chances (of avoiding an accident) are going to improve."

DOT engineers said Thursday they made their decision after doing a radar study of speeds on the stretch May 18 and reviewing seven years of auto accident reports.

Their conclusion: Most drivers obey the existing speed limit, and most of the accidents were not caused by speed.

The radar study showed that 85 percent of southbound drivers were driving at 57 mph or less, and 85 percent of northbound drivers were driving at 59 mph or less, according to Dwight Danley, a traffic engineer in DOT's Tampa office.

Generally, the state sets speed limits at whatever 85 percent or less of the drivers are driving at, in the absence of other safety concerns.

"If the limit were lowered to 45, you'd see increased passing, because some people would obey the limit," said Bala Padmanabhan, assistant director of traffic operations engineering.

"In effect, you could be creating more of a (safety) problem."

That reasoning did not make sense to Wheeler. "Of course 85 percent of the people are doing that if that's the speed limit. My point is that the limit shouldn't be at 55 mph."

Danley also said he inspected sight distances and no-passing zones in the area and did not find problems.

"If you posted it at 45 miles an hour, what you would be doing in my opinion is building a speed trap," he said.

If anything, more enforcement of the existing limit, not a lower limit, would help improve safety, Danley said. But that is up to the Florida Highway Patrol and the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, both of which have said they are short on personnel.

Danley said the 1-mile stretch was the scene of 35 accidents over seven years, including four fatalities. Generally, the DOT takes corrective action at intersections if there are five or more accidents there in a calendar year.

For this stretch of road, however, none of the 35 accidents was solely attributable to excessive speed, Danley said. Causes included alcohol and driver error, such as turning into the path of oncoming vehicles.

Wheeler said the DOT recently gave in to lobbying by citizens in two other cases in Citrus County. The agency reversed plans to install a concrete median on State Road 44 and agreed to erect a traffic light at SR 44 and Independence Highway.

"If they listened to the people on the median deal, how about listening to us on 200?" Wheeler said. "We live here, and we see what's going on."

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