ADVERTISEMENT

Musician's death highlights fight over Hudson intersection fix

Shoppers can only exit Walmart onto Beacon Woods via a one-lane bridge over a creek, but can’t enter the property. County staff is working on a plan to add a roundabout at the intersection and an entrance lane on the bridge.

HUDSON — After a member of a local band died in a motorcycle wreck on U.S. 19 near Beach Boulevard in November, a petition seeking a traffic light at the intersection garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

It was the second fatal crash at the intersection since 2015, and since the Florida Department of Transportation reconfigured the intersection to prevent left turns onto U.S. 19 in 2013, according to state records.

"There is a desperate need for a traffic light at the intersection of US HYW 19 and Beach Blvd/Dipaola Dr.," states the petition, posted to gopetition.com. "If it were one of your own, would this issue (have) been taken care of already or soon?"

ADVERTISEMENT

But the petition is likely to have no effect, as U.S. 19 is controlled by the state DOT, which already has said the intersection doesn't warrant a traffic light.

Bearded Brothers Band fiddler Robert Leroy Cartwright's death on Nov. 27 as he rode his Harley-Davidson on U.S. 19 put an emotional mark on a debate that has been brewing for years. State and county officials differ over how best to address safety concerns at the intersection, where Dipaola Drive to the east and Beach Boulevard to west meet U.S. 19 in Hudson, just north of a Walmart Supercenter.

Cartwright, 33, of New Port Richey, was heading south on the highway when a woman in the northbound lanes turned left toward Beach Boulevard in front of him. Cartwright collided with the back of her car.

Despite the FDOT's assertion that the intersection doesn't need a traffic signal, it offered suggestions to the Pasco County Commission on things it could do to alleviate traffic problems in the area, recommendations the county is beginning to act on now.

Back in July 2013, Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano sent a letter to the FDOT, asking it to add a light at the intersection and accusing state officials of "rigidly applying warrant studies and access management standards with no sensitivity to the opinions of our constituents."

Mariano referenced the minimum distance allowed between traffic signals — a half-mile, according to FDOT standards — and then listed several instances in Pasco where signals are closer. The nearest traffic light to that intersection is at U.S. 19 and Beacon Woods Drive, just south of the Walmart. It's only a quarter-mile away, the commissioner said.

ADVERTISEMENT

"They're not being consistent," Mariano said this week while standing near the Walmart. "So to me, if you're not consistent, you don't have a rule sheet to play by."

In a response letter from November 2013, Brian Blanchard, the FDOT's assistance secretary for engineering and operations, explained that the intersection didn't meet the minimum qualifications for a traffic light. One measure is traffic volume, which Blanchard said Beach Boulevard didn't meet. Another is the number of T-bone crashes that could be preventable by a traffic light. Only 3.7 of those happened per year from January 2010 to June 2013 at that intersection, Blanchard wrote. The number to qualify is five annually.

Blanchard said most of the signaled intersections Mariano cited were in place before the half-mile standard was set, and all met the traffic volume or preventable crash metrics.

"When intersections satisfy the traffic volume warrants and/or there is a safety concern that results in documented correctable crashes, a traffic signal might need to be installed even if the spacing requirements deviate from the access management standards," Blanchard wrote. "This was not found to be the case of Beach Boulevard."

Among the recommendations Blanchard made to the county was to improve the access on the south side of the Walmart property along Beacon Woods Drive. Currently, shoppers can only exit Walmart onto Beacon Woods via a one-lane bridge over a creek, but can't enter the property. And there's no way for shoppers to access the adjacent Kmart to the south without going onto U.S. 19 and making a U-turn.

ADVERTISEMENT

County staffers drew up a solution that includes a roundabout and a second lane for inbound Walmart traffic on the bridge and presented it to a traffic consultant. They hope to receive the consultant's analysis next week.

Another improvement, not recommended by the FDOT but one Mariano would like to see, is the opening of an access road that would connect Walmart to Dipaola Drive to the north. That way, residents in Country Club Estates to the north of Walmart could gain access to the big-box store without traversing U.S. 19.

"The less people on U.S. 19, the better," Mariano said.

Once the improvements are in place, Blanchard wrote in the 2013 letter, the FDOT could re-evaluate the need for a light.

Mariano said the light needs to be part of the immediate plan, which would include removing concrete barriers that restrict left-hand turns onto U.S. 19. He said Walmart will likely not agree to easing access because it worries its parking lot will become a cut-through for Country Club Estate residents looking to get to the traffic light at Beacon Woods Drive and go south on U.S. 19. If a light existed at Dipaolo and 19 that allowed residents to go south, they wouldn't need to cut through.

"It's a lot of dynamic pieces, and when you do one, it doesn't work without the others," Mariano said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

Loading ...