After years of complaints and concerns, the state Department of Transportation has put up a traffic light on a high-speed corridor between Dade City and Zephyrhills where traffic from four schools accesses the highway.
On Monday, a DOT crew will activate the signal at U.S. 301 and Centennial Road. At first, the light will blink orange for caution. But by Wednesday, the light is scheduled to go into standard operating mode, DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
Principal Tom Rulison of Centennial Middle School said the light is long overdue.
"Finally!" he said. "This has been going on and on for years and years."
Nearby, at Centennial Elementary School, principal Chuck Rine said without the light, traffic from parents and buses picking up children backs up more than a quarter of a mile from U.S. 301 as motorists try to squeeze into traffic flowing at 55 mph and above.
"It takes quite a while for people trying to get out," he said. "This should make it a lot safer for people."
In addition to the public schools, the intersection also serves the Adventist Educational Center and Grace Christian Academy, as well as a new Pasco County fire station.
Carson said letters from parents and the schools are what swayed DOT engineers and led to a study of the intersection.
Rine and Rulison credited parents and children who for years made telephone calls and wrote letters asking for a traffic light.
State policies used in determining where to place traffic lights weigh several factors, including the volume of traffic, the number of pedestrians, crashes in the area, and the proximity to schools.
The intersection has seen several accidents, many of them minor. But in April, a 14-year-old boy was seriously injured when the car he was riding in collided with an 18-wheeler driving on U.S. 301.
At the time, the light was already approved, but the DOT didn't have the required $103,000 budgeted.
While school officials hailed the light's arrival, Carson warned the signal will affect drivers used to traveling unhindered between Zephyrhills and Dade City.
An estimated 22,000 vehicles a day pass through the intersection, she said.
Carson said the DOT always listens to requests for traffic signals.
"Many times, citizen concerns are very valid," she said. "We take them very seriously."
Need a light?
To request a traffic light at an intersection served by the state Department of Transportation, usually a major thoroughfare, call toll-free 1-800-226-7220 and ask for the public information office.