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Busy road needs traffic light now _ not next year

Lives no doubt will be saved by the Florida Department of Transportation's decision to install a traffic light on Curlew Road near the bustling Woodlands Square shopping center in Oldsmar.

Residents of Gull Aire Village, a mobile home park across Curlew Road from the shopping center, had lobbied for several years for a traffic light to be installed where Gull Aire Boulevard intersects with Curlew. Many Gull Aire residents are elderly and no longer drive. They walk or ride motorized scooters across Curlew to Woodlands Square to do their shopping and return with loaded arms or shopping carts.

That hike was not so hazardous when Curlew Road was two lanes wide and Woodlands Square was less busy. But now Curlew Road is six lanes, and Woodlands Square is home to one of the busiest movie megaplexes in the Tampa Bay area. Residents took their lives in their hands every time they made the crossing.

Gull Aire residents who spoke to DOT officials were consistently told that studies had shown the intersection did not meet the state's standards for a traffic light. Oldsmar officials who lobbied for the light got the same answer.

Early this year Oldsmar City Council member Brian Michaels decided the city needed more firepower. He contacted all the Pinellas County municipalities and asked them to approve a resolution supporting a light on Curlew Road.

It was an unusual approach. After all, why should a city somewhere else put itself in the position of lobbying for a traffic light in Oldsmar? But Michaels was rewarded for his creativity when several cities agreed to pass resolutions, which were forwarded to the DOT.

In April, the thing that everyone had feared happened: A handicapped 42-year-old resident of a neighboring subdivision was killed trying to cross Curlew on an electric scooter.

The DOT launched another study, and this time, the answer was yes. The intersection of Curlew and Gull Aire Boulevard met the standards and will get a light.

DOT officials estimate that it will take about a year to get the light in place. It is hard to imagine why it should take so long to erect a light that everyone now agrees is essential to public safety. The state surely can expedite the work, given the life-threatening situation that exists.

If not, perhaps Michaels has the material for another lobbying campaign.