For the first time since the council’s vote on allowing the Friends of the Marathon Dog Park to begin raising money, citizens turned out in droves to the regular city council meeting Tuesday night to voice their support for a handful of hot button issues.
Traffic engineers Omar Meitin of the Florida Department of Transportation and consultant Carlos Francis appeared before the packed house only to confirm what numerous traffic studies at the intersection of Aviation Boulevard, U.S. 1 and 72nd St. have already revealed; according to federal DOT standards, a traffic signal is not warranted at the dangerous intersection.
“Signals are not the cure-all panacea of the problems of the community,” Francis said, pointing to a statistical rise in rear-end crashes at intersections following the installation of traffic lights.
Citing a set of national standards from the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Francis said the volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic was not high enough to validate the installation of a signal.
“All those things have to be weighed,” he explained. “It’s an unfortunate situation.”
Unwilling to take no for an answer, several Marathon residents gave impassioned arguments about the DOT’s findings.
Diane Jones, owner of the Ranch House Motel, recounted 15 years of traffic accidents in which she’s seen “bodies picked up and hauled away” from crash scenes. Jones compared only one road intersecting with U.S. 1 at Coco Plum Drive and one fatality in recent history to two roads intersecting U.S. 1 and three fatalities in front of her business.
“Why don’t we warrant one?” she implored.
Marathon resident Wendy Bonilla, who has also been quite vocal on this and other issues during recent council meetings, pointed to her daughter in the audience and said any possible traffic delays a signal may cause would be well worth it if they saved children’s lives.
Vice mayor Don Vasil told Meitin and Francis that it was the council’s job to represent the citizens of Marathon.
“This is obviously not a controversial issue,” Vasil explained, pointing to the large turnout of citizens. “Is there anything else this council can do to change the stance of DOT?”
Meitin said FDOT has studied the intersection since the peak tourist season of 1998. Even with the city’s independent consulting firm, Jacobs Engineering and FDOT’s contracted consultants, all studies result in the same answer.
“I understand the people want a traffic light, but there are guidelines in place,” Meitin said. “If there weren’t those guidelines, there’d be traffic lights all over the place.”
Frustrated outbursts from the audience were quelled when Mayor Mike Cinque promised the audience the council would continue to pursue the issue.
“It’s pretty obvious we’re not going to get DOT’s cooperation at this time, but we’re going to continue with this,” Cinque said. “Our back’s are not to the wall. There’s no need to drag this out tonight.”
Councilwoman Ginger Snead suggested Francis consider more than federal statistical guidelines and look at the “human factor.”
“If those are the warrants, perhaps we should take out all the lights in Marathon,” Snead said. “Is there any other criteria besides what you’re looking at in this book?” There’s got to be another way around it.”
The first reading of a resolution to place special assessments for sewers on property owners’ 2009 tax bill brought forth a handful of residents urging the council to help keep the city’s only laundry in business.
“My concern is for the community at this point,” said Donna Farmer, owner of the city’s only laundry facilities recently closed by a fire.
Farmer leases the space from building owner Ed Putz whom she said plans to file an appeal with the city to hopefully find a viable option for reopening the laundromat.
Former Vice Mayor Marilyn Tempest said it might be necessary to reconsider the Equivalent Dwelling Unit assessment for a business like the laundromat. An assessment of 31.7 EDUs equates to either a $149,000 payment up front or $169,000 over the next 20 years for the business.
“The cost to my customers would increase,” Farmer explained. “It’s a community issue at this point. This is about having a service here that people really need.”
Tempest said she was glad to hear Putz planned to appeal the assessment since the facility is critical service to the work force in Marathon.
Turtle Hospital owner Richie Moretti said the $121,000 assessment he’d received for the facility at Hidden Harbor would make it nearly impossible for him to keep his three employees onsite.
“I have three small employees with small bathrooms,” Moretti said. “A lot of our water goes to boat washing and the turtles, not our employees.”
City manager Clyde Burnett said the city planned to apply for a community development block grant in September to help offset the cost of the sewer assessments for Marathon residents.
Councilman Pete Worthington added that he felt very fortunate he does not reside in unincorporated Monroe County where residents area facing sewer assessments as high as $19,000.