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DOT okays lower speed limit for stretch of W Hillsborough Avenue

The speed limit on a dangerous stretch of W Hillsborough Avenue will be lowered by 5 mph in the next two weeks despite an engineer's warning that such a change could cause more accidents.

From Memorial Highway to Silver Mill Drive, the speed limit will soon be 50 mph, reduced from 55, said Marian Scorza, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. The move comes after months of intense lobbying by a group of residents led by Joan Landrum and Bruce Murakami, who lost family members to crashes on the road.

The change is out of the ordinary for the DOT, which typically goes along with recommendations made by engineering consultants hired to study traffic, Scorza said. But she said the move was not made in response to citizen requests, including a petition signed by more than 3,000 people requesting a stop light, a speed reduction and a crosswalk.

"Just going out there and looking at the area, we thought that might help," Scorza said. "Sometimes we do change. It's not often that I've seen it personally."

The engineer's report in this case recommended against a speed reduction, stating that traffic on the road tends to travel close to 55 mph regardless of the posted limit and that it is safer to keep cars moving at a consistent speed.

But the DOT will ask the Sheriff's Office to slow traffic on W Hillsborough by getting tougher on speeders, Scorza said.

DOT officials met Monday with Murakami, Landrum and County Commissioner Ben Wacksman. Community involvement did help get the DOT's attention, said Wacksman, who called the meeting.

"I think the progress we're making is the direct result of concern in the community and hard work to find solutions," he said. "It's a good example of community-based solutions."

Scorza said the DOT plans to work with residents on future changes to W Hillsborough Avenue.

There were 29 accidents from January 1996 to January 1998 on a stretch of W Hillsborough near Colony Crossings Shopping Center.

Murakami's wife and and 11-year-old daughter died in a November 1998 crash after leaving the Colony Crossings parking lot in their minivan. Landrum's 15-year-old son was killed four years earlier when a car hit him while he was trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue at nearby Elliot Drive.

Landrum said the speed reduction won't help and that she thinks a traffic signal is the best solution.

"The community members do not agree with the DOT at all," Landrum said. "They still feel like a traffic signal would at least stop people and then they would gradually speed up."

Murakami plans to contact an engineer to look at the DOT's proposal and determine whether a stoplight will make the road safer, Wacksman said. The consultant hired by the DOT concluded that a signal was not justified at Hillsborough and Colony Crossings.

Scorza said the DOT is waiting to hear feedback from citizens before deciding whether to change the medians to prevent left turns onto Hillsborough from Colony Crossings.