On Aug. 11, longtime Marathon resident Larry Shaffer lost his life in a traffic accident on Overseas Highway as he was turning out of Tarpon Harbor. Even though it did not occur at the intersection of Aviation Boulevard and U.S.1, rather just west of it, it was a prompt to try to make better sense of that very congested stretch of road.
Many local residents have long believed that only a traffic light could make the intersection of U.S.1 and Aviation Boulevard safe.
“I went into the discussion thinking we needed a new traffic light,” said Marathon Councilman John Bartus, who discussed the issue at a recent council meeting, “but I think we have something better in the works.”
Sheriff Rick Ramsay met with three state Department of Transportation traffic engineers on Sept. 18. Together, they think they have a four-point plan that doesn’t require a traffic light.
“There are already six traffic lights in Marathon,” Ramsay said. “A traffic light causes crashes, stalls traffic, increases evacuation times and increases speeding and aggressive driving. If every traffic light puts you further behind schedule, people start driving more aggressively.”
Ramsay said it’s also important to note the nature of the traffic in that area. Certainly, there are residents exiting the neighborhood behind the airport. But there’s also a lot of trailered boat traffic — either leaving the boat ramp on Harbor Drive, or making use of good Rec-90 gas sold by the Valero gas station across the highway, kitty corner to Aviation Boulevard. The long wheel-base of a trailer behind a vehicle makes the turns even more challenging, traffic notwithstanding.
Here’s what’s being planned:
- Add an extra turning lane exiting Aviation Boulevard onto U.S.1. Right now, the traffic stacks up cars waiting to get onto the highway because those making a left-hand turn must wait until at least three lanes of traffic are clear. If the plan is approved, there will be separate left- and right-hand turn lanes for traffic leaving the neighborhood and merging onto U.S.1.
- Add an extra southbound turning lane on U.S.1 to enter Aviation Boulevard. Rather than having to take the corner on two wheels, motorists will be able to slow down in the southbound turning lane and enter the neighborhood streets at a moderate speed.
- Shorten the concrete median on U.S.1 at the west end by 20 feet. That will allow motorists making a left hand turn to get all the way into the extra space (no bumpers hanging out into opposing traffic) and look for a chance to merge.
- Re-shape the concrete median on U.S.1 at the east end. A thinner median makes it easier for long wheel-base vehicles and trailers to exit the Valero gas station and turn across the highway headed south.
“I think we should have the drawings from FDOT in about two weeks,” Ramsay said.