After two Nease High School students were critically injured Nov. 7 in a car accident at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Ray Road, the Florida Department of Transportation said it plans to address public demands and initiate construction of a traffic light by September 2017.
“FDOT understands the urgency, and traffic safety is our priority,” said Ron Tittle, public information officer at the FDOT. “FDOT has been reviewing the intersection since early 2016, and the design is currently at 60 percent completion toward constructing a traffic signal at the intersection.”
Tittle said the proposed traffic signal has received construction funding for fiscal year 2017-2018, which begins in July for Florida. FDOT’s engineering team, he said, is working to expedite the design and review that should help in moving the project sooner into 2017 than September. That design includes the review of electrical lines, gas lines and other utilities at the intersection that may need to be relocated to accommodate for the traffic light. Before construction begins, Tittle said FDOT plans to install signs at the intersection as soon as possible.
Public frustration concerning the historically dangerous intersection mounted after Mackenzie Felmet, 17, and Sydney Felmet, 15, were airlifted to area hospitals following the Nov. 7 accident. According to Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the sisters, who were stopped facing west on Ray Road in a Toyota Corolla, attempted to cross northbound lanes of U.S. 1 and failed to yield the right of way to an oncoming Hyundai Santa Fe headed north in the right lane.
Frustrated with the light’s delayed timeline, Nease students Katherine Carlo and Zach Yearwood have initiated petitions asking state legislators to expedite its implementation.
“As a Nease student, I fear for my friends, family and the entire community due to the numerous accidents that have occurred at this intersection,” wrote Carlo in her change.org petition. “This incident proves that the time for a stop light is now.”
Carlo’s online petition has been signed by nearly 1,900 supporters.
In Yearwood’s change.org petition, he implored government officials “to help us keep our children alive.” His petition has been signed by nearly 1,400 supporters.
Florida State Sen. Travis Hutson is one of the state government officials that was petitioned. Although he said his office has not received any physical petitions, he is aware of their online presence and is planning to work with FDOT to review the intersection and address the concerns.
Hutson said he understands and appreciates the urgency of the project, but its timeline is dependent upon the budget allocation process. According to Hutson, the state can’t allocate money for projects until the end of session around July 1.
“If there’s a way we can find extra dollars to expedite, we certainly will,” said Hutson. “If not, we’ll have to see what the holdup is and how we can expedite to get that done. As long as it’s not money holding us back, it should be priority one.”
Tittle said FDOT is also aware of the online petitions, and he applauds the student’s safety efforts. Before construction on the traffic signal begins, FDOT also plans to contact Nease High School, Tittle said, to conduct a presentation at the high school regarding road requirements to ensure children are safe in the interim.