TAMPA ― A traffic signal and other safety improvements are under consideration for an intersection with stop signs where two Plant High School students suffered fatal injuries in a motorcycle crash Friday.
Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa staff have been seeking funding for years to improve the intersection of Bay to Bay Boulevard and Lois Avenue, said Vik Bhide, city of Tampa mobility director.
Meantime, for the past two months, they’ve been looking into temporary measures aimed chiefly at pedestrian safety for an area within a short distance of a school and a park. These could include a pedestrian-activated crossing, like a rectangular flashing beacon — similar to the beacons installed on Bayshore Boulevard after pedestrian deaths there.
The Plant High students were traveling east on Bay to Bay at a high rate of speed when a car that had stopped for the stop sign at Lois Avenue pulled into their path, Tampa police said. The driver of the car did not see them, police said. The students, driver Benjamin Francis, 17, and passenger Taylor Koulouris, 15, died from injuries they received in the collision.
A traffic signal would change the way vehicles access the intersection, but the temporary safety measures under consideration would not have prevented the crash, Bhide said. No money is available for them, either.
“The city would design them, but the county would need to approve anything,” said city spokeswoman Lauren Rozyla. “So it’s kind of hard to talk about those timelines and schedules. We really just don’t know right now.”
Bay to Bay Boulevard is one of many county-owned roads within Tampa’s city limits. Under previous agreements between the city and county, the city designs the improvements and the county finds ways to pay for them.
The intersection, in a transitional area with homes to the east and businesses to the west, would need two flashing pedestrian beacons, Rozyla said, each at a cost of around $15,000.
Still, the city is committed to taking steps toward improving pedestrian safety, Bhide said. The goal is to reduce the number of pedestrians killed on city streets, 80 of them just this year, to zero.
The cost of a traffic signal at Bay to Bay and Lois is estimated at $550,000.
Francis’ parents said they’d like to see a signal at the intersection.
Iris Rodgers, Francis’ mother, has heard from neighbors and friends in the days since the crash who consider the South Tampa intersection dangerous.
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Gary Francis, the teen’s father, said a traffic signal would be the best way to remember his son.
“For them to put a traffic light there, that would be my memorial for Ben. He’d save lives in the future,” Gary Francis said.
Safety along stretches of Bay to Bay Boulevard has sparked debate for years among city and county officials.
In 2019, city engineers called the four-lane road an unsafe “dinosaur” that couldn’t be built under current codes and guidelines.
Plans were presented then to trim a stretch of the four-lane road from Bayshore Boulevard west to Dale Mabry Highway to two lanes with a central turn lane and bike lanes, pedestrian walkways and other traffic slowing measures.
The plans were rejected by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who agreed with opponents that the changes would create traffic jams and harm businesses.
That stretch is just east of the Lois Avenue intersection where the crash occurred.