Parrish traffic fatality renews calls for action
After another fatality last week at the most dangerous intersection in Parrish, the thinking of traffic engineers about whether U.S. 301 and County Road 675, also known as Rutland Road, warrants a fully functioning signal seems to be changing.
At a heated public hearing in January, Keith Slater, a traffic engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, said that traffic counts at the intersection did not support a fully functioning traffic signal there.
FDOT had safety improvements planned, but they would not begin before the fall of 2020, Slater said.
That was, until Kenneth S. Bauer, 54, of Palmetto died at the intersection on April 18. Bauer was headed north on U.S. 301 when a driver in a Dodge Ram pickup truck pulled forward from County Road 675 in front of the motorcyclist. Bauer crashed into the side of the truck. The driver of the truck faces charges of DUI causing death, DUI causing property damage and violation of right of way.
Ashley Rhodes, 22, died at the same intersection in June 2018. Parrish firefighters and community members say that there have been many other serious accidents there.
Asked about the intersection Monday, L.K. Nandem, District 1 secretary for FDOT, said he was aware of the most-recent fatality.
“We are working on a plan,” Nandem said, adding that FDOT will be partnering with Manatee County to make the intersection safer.
For specifics, he referred the Bradenton Herald to Manatee County.
Sia Mollanazar, Manatee County’s deputy director of engineering services, said Wednesday the latest thinking is to add a “half signal” that would regulate north and southbound traffic on U.S. 301 and County Road 675, but not from 69th Street East on the west side of U.S. 301.
The signal would allow southbound turns from County Road 675 onto U.S. 301, and would allow east-bound turns onto County Road 675 from U.S. 301 by way of a traffic signal. Because 69th Street would be excluded from the change, state officials call the change a Signalized Green “T” intersection.
Traffic moving westbound on C.R. 675 would make a left turn onto U.S. 301 via a channelized lane to merge into traffic.
Currently, the intersection is served by a flashing yellow light on U.S. 301 and a flashing red light on County Road 675 and 69th Street East.
There will be another public meeting in Parrish, possibly in one to two months, to present the recommendation, Mollanazar said.
The county is awaiting from FDOT renderings on how the proposed change would work. After the renderings are received, the public hearing held and the new traffic signal approved, FDOT would turn the project over to the county for installation.
The county would be able to seek bids and move forward with the new signal faster than FDOT. The state would reimburse the county for the work done, Mollanzar said.
County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, who represents the Parrish area, said Mollanazar briefed her on the plans Wednesday.
“Everybody wants a full traffic signal there, not this half light thing,” Trace said. “Even the county would prefer a fully functional light.
“I suggested to FDOT they put a full light there until we can extend Fort Hamer Road north to Erie Road, and then we could reassess the need. They didn’t think that would work.”
Pastor Chris Schmidt and members of the Parrish United Methodist Church prayed for the fatally injured Rhodes the night of her accident.
“This is heart-wrenching to see this again. The sooner they can get something done the better,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “We have seen survey crews working at that intersection the last couple of days. Maybe that is related.”
A “drive safely” sign is located on the road shoulder near the church in memory of Rhodes, a constant reminder of the accidents that have occurred at the intersection.
A side issue is that the proposed traffic plan would make it more challenging for worshippers to get to church, Schmidt said.
Mary Jane Hixson has managed the Parrish United Methodist Church Thrift Annex next to the church for nine years.
“The more houses they build, the worse the traffic is,” Hixson said. “The traffic just runs past here at full speed.”
Mimi Sheffer, a Parrish Civic Association board member, said the intersection is a major hot-button issue in the community.
“I don’t believe they understand the gravity of the situation. This has to change. My daughter and I almost had an accident at that intersection,” Sheffer said.
“The intersection of U.S. 301 and Fort Hamer Road is the last traffic light before this intersection. The traffic flies north from there. It’s not uncommon for them to be traveling 60 or 70 mph,” she said.
FDOT takes the loss of life very seriously, Brian Rick, public information specialist for FDOT District 1, said Wednesday.
“FDOT has thoroughly investigated this intersection and reviewed all crashes that have occurred in the last five years. Our engineers initially reviewed the crashes and the intersection for immediate safety issues. Brush clearing and reviews of the design of the intersection were performed to improve the safety of the intersection,” Rick said.
“FDOT staff have coordinated with the community to gain further insight into the causes of the crashes and to get public input on possible solutions to prevent additional incidents. Through this process, staff have identified a solution: a Signalized Green T intersection.”
“FDOT staff is exploring options to expedite the construction of this new safety improvement feature at this intersection. Survey work is getting started and a design consultant has been contracted to begin the design. Any work at this location would result in a new design, even if a traditional intersection had been chosen. The existing signal poles are not sufficient for a full signal. As the Department evaluates the options available for expediting the project, more details will be available. We understand the importance of providing a solution that works at this location and are diligently working toward that goal.”