Roadside memorial remembers lives of young Lakewood Ranch students lost in crash
An intersection that many residents have deemed unsafe — and that sparked a petition to demand changes there — will get an “interim improvement” from the Florida Department of Transportation until a more permanent solution can be constructed.
Florida Department of Transportation officials said the left turn from State Road 64 onto Pope Road will be temporarily closed starting Oct. 1. Work will likely continue until Oct. 2.
FDOT has plans for a roundabout at the intersection, in the long term. As a state road, State Road 64 falls under FDOT’s jurisdiction.
The design stage of a roundabout is expected to begin this fall, but construction likely won’t start until 2023.
Until the roundabout’s construction begins, FDOT officials will begin the process of moving forward with a proposed permanent closure of the left turn onto Pope Road. FDOT plans to release more information on the proposed permanent closure “soon.”
A circulating petition calling for a solution to unsafe traffic conditions at the intersection of State Road 64, Pope Road and Greyhawk Boulevard in Manatee County has gained more than 3,000 signatures.
According to residents and drivers, the combination of poor visibility and high speeds at the intersection can make turning there extremely dangerous.
The latest Florida Department of Transportation data shows that the intersection was the site of 18 crashes in four years, including a fatal 2016 incident.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, there was another.
Chase Coyner, 17, was driving west on State Road 64 in a 2012 Honda Accord when he turned left in front of an oncoming 2007 Dodge Ram. Coyner and his passenger, 15-year-old Matthew Powers, suffered fatal injuries in the crash.
The teens were on their way to Lakewood Ranch High School’s homecoming.
The petition to install traffic control at the intersection was created by Meghan Player. Player is a schoolmate of the boys who were killed, according to Bay News 9.
The petition is titled, “How Many People Have To Die?” and reads, in part:
“Highway 64 is a major road for the residents of Manatee County. Over the last 3 years the Florida Department of Transportation has recorded numerous accidents at the entrance to Greyhawk Subdivision, turning off or onto Pope Rd., and at the Rye Rd. intersection. Serveral of these incidents were fatalities. Initially residents asked for a traffic light to be installed at both the intersection of Rye Rd. and at the entrance of Greyhawk subdivision. After continued incidents a temporary traffic light was installed at the Rye Rd. intersection which has successfully lowered the number of traffic accidents. Modifications were made at the Pope Rd./Greyhawk Subdivision intersection to limit left hand turns, which included a change to the turn lanes off of Hwy. 64. The modification on Hwy. 64 has created a massive blind spot for motorists traveling west on Hwy. 64 making a left onto Pope Rd.”
The petition has received many comments from residents and drivers familiar with the stretch of road who agree that it is dangerous.
“SR 64 has not been updated to keep up with the growth in the area. A traffic light is a simple solution,” said commenter Susan C.
“I live in Greyhawk and trying to exit or enter the development is terrible. A light is necessary!” said commenter Thomas S.
“I drive this road daily and make that turn onto Pope Road from 64. It is scary and dangerous, even for a very careful and experienced driver,” said commenter Christina G. “It is difficult or impossible to see oncoming traffic if there is a vehicle in the opposite turn lane...Often times when trying to be cautious and turn only when certain it is safe, people behind you are honking impatiently, wanting to force you to make the turn even when you cannot see if it is clear...I can image how this affects a teenage driver who may go even when they should wait. This intersection needs a light so traffic can cross in all directions safely.”
This is not the first petition for a traffic light at the intersection. In 2016, residents of GreyHawk Landing gathered hundreds of signatures in request of a signal.
The FDOT website says that roundabouts are safer, cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than traffic lights. The agency is planning on installing roundabouts to improve traffic at multiple intersections.
“FDOT has determined that the ultimate improvement for the intersection of SR 64 and Greyhawk Boulevard is a roundabout, which is the same improvements as the intersections at Rye Road and Lorraine Road,” said FDOT spokesman Zachary Burch in an email. “In fact, the Rye Road roundabout will begin construction next month.”
While the Rye Road and Lorraine Road intersections qualified for temporary traffic lights until roundabout construction is complete, the Pope Road/Greyhawk Boulevard intersection did not, according to Burch.
“A temporary signal cannot be installed because the intersection did not meet the federal and state criteria for a signal,” Burch said. “The intersections at Rye and Lorraine did meet that criteria.”
The roundabout for the Pope Road/Greyhawk Boulevard intersection is currently in the design phase. It is not scheduled for construction until 2023.
Some of the people who signed the petition are aware of FDOT’s plans and are not very enthused about the roundabout or the long wait.
“I have lived in GreyHawk for 9 years now and I’m horrified that FDOT continues to refuse our request to install a light at the entrance to our subdivision,” said commenter Bridget M. “How many more people have to die? We cannot wait for five years to get the roundabout.”
Before Thursday’s announcement about the turn lane closure, Burch said FDOT was taking the recent crash into consideration.
“Due to the crash that happened earlier this month and the department’s commitment to continue to focus on safety at this intersection, we are reevaluating the intersection to look for an interim improvement until the roundabout is constructed,” Burch said.
As for keeping up with growth in Manatee County, that is outside of FDOT’s authority, says Burch.
FDOT adds projects to its five-year work program based on priorities set by local governments, in this case the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The MPO also shapes priorities for county roads. County roads are under the jurisdiction of Manatee County government and go through a different determination process for possible traffic light and traffic circle installation, according to public works director Sage Kamiya.
Kamiya recommends a few resources for residents with traffic safety concerns.
“If motorists are observed breaking the law, violations can be reported to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on their 24-hour traffic complaint hotline,” Kamiya said. The number for the hotline is 941-723-5197.
Kamiya also recommends making use of Manatee County’s Citizens Action Center, a service that allows users to lodge a complaint or request information relating to any number of government services. The center can be reached at 941-742-5800 or online at mymanatee.org.
“Essentially, everything that Manatee County staff do is for the citizens of the county,” Kamiya said.
Herald staff writer Sara Nealeigh contributed to this story.