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FDOT reverses decision on U.S. 19-Sunset Road median

Published:   |   Updated: May 20, 2014 at 11:32 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY — When it comes to opinions on medians along U.S. 19, there seems to be no middle of the road, local leaders observe.

Plans by Florida Department of Transportation for the $28 median improvements on the state highway tend to prompt strong responses for or against, happy or unhappy, love or hate. State and federal lawmakers even got drawn into the debate peripherally.

Up-in-arms business owners and New Port Richey city officials hated how left turns were shut off in the median of southbound U.S. 19 onto Sunset Road. They even gathered for a May 7 street-corner summit with FDOT at the site, several blocks north of Main Street.

Mayor Rob Marlowe led a delegation of some eight or nine owners and city staff to a May 14 meeting of the minds with FDOT District 7 officials in Tampa.

FDOT overturned its original plan and will restore the left-turn lane for Sunset Road.

“I’m very happy about that,” Marlowe said after the FDOT meeting. “That one at least is in the works,” although reconfiguring median access to Sunset Road could take as long as Christmas time to get it fixed, the mayor added.

Like dominoes, however, the Sunset Road access caused changes for a northbound left turn from U.S. 19 onto Beau Lane. Daniel Jacobs, owner of Auto Enterprise, was concerned that would cut off access of car carriers delivering vehicles to his dealership.

“We kind of made a compromise,” Jacobs said Friday about talks with FDOT. Alternate access could link into another entrance to the lot.

Protests over two other median changes for U.S. 19 in the immediate area remain unresolved.

Real estate broker Chuck Grey of F.I. Grey & Son wants to restore a median for turns onto Bridge Road immediately north of Main Street. FDOT’s access management review committee will hear complaints concerning that corner on May 28.

A decision also was postponed for median access on U.S. 19 between Palmetto and Avery roads. FDOT engineers want to evaluate more crash data.

State Farm Insurance Agent Tim Holladay is advocating median access for Richey Plaza.

“Tim Holladay and company made a very valid argument,” Marlowe said about concerns over U-turn hazards after the median changes. “The (FDOT) review committee wasn’t buying it,” from the mayor’s viewpoint.

In the meantime, Grey contacted the office of state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, about an issue with FDOT. Grey complained he never got a confirmation email of the date and time for the May 14 meeting at the FDOT district office in Tampa. FDOT officials said they did alert parties involved.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, also provided his observation in an email reply.

“Public safety is a paramount concern in this matter,” Bilirakis wrote. “We will continue to advocate on behalf of the residents and businesses impacted by these changes to ensure that their concerns are appropriately addressed.”

Perhaps one area of agreement could be that the new channelized medians with turn lanes will improve upon the former open medians that allowed traffic in all four directions.

“It was definitely dangerous,” Jacobs said about the old, open configuration.

FDOT engineers studied safety concerns from medians spaced too closely together under the old system.