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Hernando commissioners agree to study traffic near congested intersection

Published Feb. 12, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — Recognizing the challenges that new traffic patterns have created on Mariner and Cortez boulevards, Hernando County commissioners agreed this week to study whether the problems might be alleviated by opening a side street that would connect with the frontage road behind the new Cortez Commons shopping center.

Nearly 400 members of Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill and neighbors signed petitions asking the county to allow a connection between their neighborhood, south of Cortez Commons, and the frontage road, which leads to a traffic light at Mariner, allowing people to turn north or south.

Prior to recent changes on Mariner, people could exit the church and neighborhood and turn north or south at Landover Boulevard. But a new median blocks turns to the north. That leads some people to turn south, then make U-turns on a road not designed for such turns, said Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said that opening Seybold Drive — north of Landover, west of Mariner — to allow access to the frontage road would help neighbors, church-goers and even the new retail stores and restaurants that have opened at Cortez Commons.

The Rev. Arlinda Burks, pastor at Mariner United Methodist, told commissioners that her concerns were not that the new road configuration was inconvenient, but that it posed a danger for her congregation and neighbors.

"We just want to be heard,'' Burks said.

Malmberg described to commissioners the county's efforts to enhance traffic flow in the area by creating a frontage road that begins behind Sam's Club, east of Mariner Boulevard, then runs behind Cortez Commons and other businesses to the west of Mariner, eventually connecting with Cortez Boulevard across from High Point Boulevard. Bids to reroute the existing frontage road east of Mariner so it meets the new traffic light on Mariner will be opened today.

Work should begin within 60 days, and construction should take 120 days, Malmberg said.

Rowden said the church has offered its facility for a community meeting so people can talk about how they feel about extending Seybold north to the frontage road, and said a meeting should be scheduled soon. But Malmberg said he first wanted to do more research, including traffic counts, and bring information back for discussion in June or July.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes expressed concern about the cut-through being a problem with residents who might not want extra traffic in their neighborhood. But Burks noted that, other than residents of the neighborhood, no one would have a reason to come south on Seybold. She also said that she has been warning her congregation every week about leaving the church grounds safely and that the church always have off-duty deputies helping with traffic after services and events.

Commissioner Jeff Holcomb said that, in the short term, public education is necessary. But he agreed that the county should move ahead with research on opening Seybold.

"We'll make this a priority,'' Holcomb said.

In a related move — and one that will add more traffic in the area — the county's Planning and Zoning Commission voted this week to recommend approval of a master plan change for a 17.1-acre parcel sandwiched between HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital and the Evergreen Woods retirement community by Michael Collard Properties, the developer as Cortez Commons. That property is also slated to be connected to the frontage road behind Cortez Commons.

Don Lacey, representing the developer, talked about the potential for two restaurants, retail outlets, a medical office and possibly a four-story hotel on the property.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.