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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 5 months ago

How to make Longboat's Gulf of Mexico Drive safer

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Keep the transports out of the middle of GMD, let lights shine on the road, and buy GMD from the state.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

Our Page 1 headline last week asked: “Could GMD be safer?”

It was good to read that Town Manager Tom Harmer and his staff have asked the owners of the road, the Florida Department of Transportation, to do a safety review of Gulf of Mexico Drive, particularly in light of the five deaths in the past 19 months.

But pardon our cynicism. It’s difficult to hold much optimism and hope that FDOT will do anything that brings significant improvements. Its record in this region — especially at this time of year — might rank FDOT neck and neck with Congress, the national news media and those proverbial brunts of disdain, used-car salesmen.

Let’s also be realistic here. Think about it: Florida has 21.6 million people moving around every day in cars, trucks, buses, bikes, skateboards, you name it. It has 8 million cars registered with the state. And FDOT has responsibility for 12,103 miles of state highways.

So when you see the traffic at peak hours in such places as Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, along Interstate 4 and from West Palm Beach down to Miami, do you think 11-mile-long Gulf of Mexico Drive through beautiful, little Longboat Key (population 6,600) is going to register high on FDOT’s “get it done now” priority list?

Of course not. But you must try. You must start somewhere. If you don’t say anything at all, nothing will ever change.

We all know the best way to affect change in government is to exert public pressure. In that vein, our town commissioners and town staff would have to make the safety of Gulf of Mexico Drive a mission of relentless lobbying and perseverance. You know the cliche: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

To his credit, Town Manager Harmer has asked his public works and public safety staff to create a list of safety measures that could be implemented, regardless of whether they “may or may not be beyond what the state may require.”

And to that end, we can think of two measures that are imperative that can improve the safety of GMD and a third that would be dramatically positive:

Prohibit the auto-transport trucks from parking in the middle/median lane of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

That’s common sense. The town doesn’t need FDOT permission to have Longboat Key police officers simply tell those drivers that one of their brethren died recently unloading cars in the middle of Gulf of Mexico Drive. Move it.

The question would be where. On the south end of the Key, we can think of the Town Hall parking lot. Or even City Island. The latter might be inconvenient, but it would be safe.

The north end is more problematic. Longboat Island Chapel parking lot — for a fee?

Adjust the angle of the street lights at night.

Take a drive the length of the Key at night. It’s dark, too dark.

Even if the center striping reflects well, the roadway is frighteningly dark and difficult to see pedestrians — especially for Longboat’s elderly population.

As you drive the length of the Key, you’ll notice the angles of many of the Gulf of Mexico Drive lights appear to have been turned away from the road, presumably, to help the hatchling sea turtles from becoming disoriented.

Environmentally friendly, to be sure. But at what expense?

Turtle hatching season is from May through October. Outside of that, especially during the peak population season from October through April, the street lights should illuminate Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The most dramatic way to implement safety measures on Gulf of Mexico Drive falls in the category of “Sounds great, but that’ll never happen.” We have advocated this before:

Buy, or lease, the 11 miles of Gulf of Mexico Drive that go through Longboat Key. Remove the road from the jurisdiction of the state. Just imagine if that were so. The town could turn it into a toll road for nonresidents, which would generate an annuity of cash and reduce the pass-through traffic on the Key.

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