Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Three weeks after fatal traffic accident outside of Eckerd College, Mayor Foster says he's optimistic about new streetlight

Posted by on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Bill Foster
  • Bill Foster
It was exactly three weeks ago tonight that 85-year-old Robert Shepherd was killed driving out of the parking lot at Eckerd College and into traffic on South 54th Avenue. The cruel irony was that he was among a group of citizens who had been agitating for years that a stoplight needed to be installed at the entrance and exit of the St. Pete-based campus.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster told a group of Shepherd's closest friends Wednesday afternoon that after speaking with Department of Transportation officials, he' s optimistic that they will restore that light, but admitted there were no guarantees.

"You lost a very dear loved one," Mayor Foster told a crowd of over 70 members of the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College. The group of retired professionals meets regularly on the campus, and Shepherd, a former U.S diplomat, was a member of that tightly knit group.

South 54th Avenue is a state road, which means it's up to FDOT to determine whether a traffic light is needed. Foster said the city has been trying to get a light at the Eckerd intersection for years, and last week the Pinellas County Metropolitan Organization voted unanimously to call on the state agency to do so as well.

"I spoke to the director of the FDOT just about four hours ago," Foster told the audience. "They are running their traffic counts. They are doing all of the studies they need to do to justify the placement of a light at that intersection," saying he believes they will give "the benefit of the doubt" in running their numbers to determine if the light should be installed.

Speaking at Lewis House, ASPEC's center on the campus, some audience members seemed to disagree with Foster's contention that having five previous accidents in the past seven years there wasn't a significant number.

The mayor spoke for nearly 50 minutes to the senior group, touching on the Pier, the Rays Stadium, BayWalk, and the overall state of the city, which he said was quite good.

But obviously Shepherd's death has struck a nerve with this community.

One woman said she fears that because the highest traffic in the area will be during the upcoming winter months, that factor won't be counted in the DOT study. Foster said the agency should have sufficient data, but if need be, he'll be there to tell them to "check it again, check it again....we'll just keep trying until we get the numbers that justify the placement of the light."

The Tampa Bay Times reported at the time of Shepherd's death that FDOT removed the traffic light in 1994 after officials determined the area's traffic volume was too low to justify it.

Foster said that the reason FDOT took out the light was because they said it was creating a dangerous situation that actually was causing accidents.

He said the community should know definitively whether they will get the light by early January.

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