Any motorist who has exited the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus is familiar with the precarious traffic situation there on U.S. 41, also known as Tamiami Trail. Vehicles zip by at fairly high speeds on the seven-lane thoroughfare. Left turns out of the campus can be a challenge when traffic is heavy.
University and student leaders are again lobbying hard to convince the region's state legislators, the governor and the Florida Department of Transportation that a traffic signal should be installed at the main entrance.
Last month, student leaders even attended a transportation town hall meeting to discuss the intersection with Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan and visiting U.S. House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster.
USF also seeks a median in the dangerous middle turn lane as well as a crosswalk, both to protect pedestrians. Those improvements are essential as students must cross U.S. 41 to catch the northbound bus. A pedestrian was recently struck while crossing the highway by the school's north entrance.
A student petition urges Gov. Rick Scott to compel the installation of these improvements, citing seven documented crashes near USF's three entrances since construction expanded the campus.
To date, FDOT has rejected the request because that stretch of highway does not meet the state's traffic count and peak period standards -- with the petition calling these "imperfect measurements" given the nature of the university's class schedules and public events.
Oddly enough, before the main entrance was constructed in 2006, the state paid concurrency fees to Manatee County in support of a traffic signal. Obviously, the state was concerned then and nothing's changed, so why the current denial of a signal?
There should be exceptions to rigid statistical standards -- and certainly in the name of public safety.
FDOT, alarmed over Tamiami Trail crashes and deaths further north, announced plans earlier this year for $6.1 million in safety improvements. Among those are 12 pedestrian "refuge islands" in the middle turn lane to stem the high number of fatalities there -- eight from 2007-2011.
Must the USF campus register a similar fatality figure to rate safety measures? Heaven forbid.
The university is bound to grow. Plans call for residence halls and higher enrollment.
Waiting for traffic counts to increase -- and thus tragedies -- amounts to shortsighted and poor public policy. FDOT should be proactive in this case, not reactive.