School bus stop added to dangerous intersection

Tampa, FL -- The Hillsborough County School Board is bending its busing rules to pick up students from an apartment complex near Middleton High School where a student was struck and killed in March.

Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, 15, died as she left the Meridian Pointe apartments and tried to cross near the intersection of Hillsborough Avenue and 25th Street.

RELATED:Victims' families emotional plea: Fix Hillsborough Ave.

In April, after yet another teen was struck near the same intersection, there were demands from grieving parents, and outrage from the community.

"We are demanding that they do something here!" said Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick.

After a Florida Department of Transportation study concluded a lighted intersection was needed, the school board provided shuttle service for students the final six weeks of the school year.

But with school about to start up again there is still no crosswalk and no traffic light at Hillsborough and 25th. And not nearly enough time to get anything done. So what are officials planning to do?

"The district has decided that they are going to put in a scheduled bus stop at the Meridian Pointe apartment complex for those students so they will be able to ride the bus every morning to Middleton High School," said district spokesperson Tanya Arja.

The school board says it's making an exception.

Usually, no school buses are assigned within a two-mile perimeter of a public school. But given the proven danger, the board is adding the apartment complex to an existing school bus route.

"Once the improvements are made to Hillsborough Avenue we will re-evaluate it again," said Arja.

And how long will that take? The Florida Department of Transportation said the project is a year or more away from completion. Utilities need to be installed. Light poles have to be manufactured. Purchasing the land on both sides of the street has not yet been completed.

"If the landowners don't want to donate the easements, they have to be paid. That's a whole process in itself. You can't just take someone's property and put signal poles on it," said Kris Carson, DOT spokesperson.

Until then, the school board vows the buses will keep running. And that's good, say residents.

"It's really convenient, not only for the parents but for the children, because they come and go as they please," said resident Wilson Lopez.

The question is - will it work?

Of the roughly 24 Middleton High students who live at the complex, an average of about 15 took advantage of the school board's temporary shuttle service toward the end of the last school year.

There's also a constant flow of adults who also run across the dangerous lanes of traffic.

For that, FDOT is using grant money to hire off-duty Tampa police officers and beef up enforcement.

They hope between the two efforts, and a continued education campaign, it'll will save lives.


Sisters walking to school hit by car in Tampa

Teenager hit while crossing Hillsborough Avenue

TELL US: Now that the school board is offering a bus stop, and the DOT is putting in a signal, is there anything else you think could be done to improve the situation? Comment in our Facebook post below.


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