The project design started this spring, and construction is expected to be complete this time next year.
BARTOW — Debbie Lacy of Bartow put up a celebratory Facebook post after hearing that the stoplight for which she has advocated the past several years is in the works for the deadly intersection of State Road 60 and 80 Foot Road in Bartow.
“A traffic light has been approved and funded,” she wrote on Facebook.
“I have been trying to do this for 39 years,” the 40-year Bartow resident told The Ledger. “It makes me nervous as heck to get across there, and I have grandkids also that come see me.
“That intersection is very busy. It has grown tremendously over the years. There is no getting across there.”
The five-mile-long 80 Foot Road connects SR 60 to Lake Garfield, Lake Buffum and Homeland.
Lacy, 62, said she has counted “32 deaths” at the intersection in the past 39 years.
She said a few years ago there was a man and his mother, and someone and their grandchild who were killed. A couple of years ago, she saw a crash in which a grandfather who had just delivered Christmas gifts to his grandchildren was killed.
Lacy said she is pleased the Florida Department of Transportation is finally doing something.
“It takes just a phone call sometimes. The worst they can do is say no,” she said.
Brian Rick, communications specialist with FDOT, said federal funding has been approved for a project to improve safety at the intersection by installing traffic signals. The project design started this spring, and construction is expected to be complete this time next year.
“The FDOT did a safety study at this intersection and concluded that traffic signals are warranted,” Rick said. But he said Lacy’s estimate of 32 fatalities is incorrect, according to FDOT records.
“That figure could be the total number of crashes at the intersection, which combines fatal, injury and property damage,” he said.
“Even one fatality is too many,” Rick added.
FDOT accumulated crash data from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2019. During that time, there were 15 crashes within the area of the intersection, he said.
Two crashes (13.3%) were fatal, seven crashes (46.7%) resulted in injuries and six (40%) involved property damage only.
According to reports, the first fatal crash within the review period occurred in 2017 when the driver on the side street failed to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic on SR 60. The second fatal crash, in October last year, was caused in similar manner, Rick said.
A study was done at the intersection in November.
“A signal was warranted based on current/projected traffic volumes and was recommended to be installed,” Rick said. “An additional safety analysis of the crash history was also conducted for the intersection.”
He said that as the population of the state continues to grow, so will traffic volumes.
“We ask that drivers obey the posted speed limits and avoid driving while distracted. Safety is a shared responsibility,” he said.
Former Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer, who served six years as commissioner, said that when Lacy told her how many fatal crashes had occurred at the intersection, she sent a letter to her contacts at FDOT.
Pfeiffer said that while FDOT did not confirm Lacy’s number, they are “really good to work with.”
“It is great,” Pfeiffer said about the light being approved. “And that is how advocacy and reaching out can get results.”
Pfeiffer said she thinks that sometimes traffic engineers get caught in the mire of vehicles that are passing versus the number of people getting killed, whether it is because of a visual road issue or bad judgment.
“I think a light will make the intersection safe,” she said, noting that a couple of hundred people left supportive comments on Lacy’s post. “I am just happy that it will go in and hopefully save lives.”
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at email@example.com or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.