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Studies say no traffic light necessary at South Tampa intersection where crash killed 2 teens

Hillsborough Co. paid consultants $27,000 to study the Lois and Bay to Bay intersection. Consultants recommend other road improvements instead of a light.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County says it will not install a traffic light in South Tampa at the intersection of Bay to Bay Boulevard and Lois Avenue where a crash killed two teens last December.

10 Investigates learned the decision came after the county paid consulting engineering firm Alfred Benesch & Company $27,000 for two studies that analyzed the roads to see if a light is necessary.

Neither the Road Safety Audit nor the Signal Warrant Study recommended a light.

“It's really disappointing,” Janet Scherberger, president of Walk Bike Tampa, a non-profit organization dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian safety, said.

Consultants came to their conclusion by analyzing crash data and nine signal warrants including traffic and pedestrian volume as well as school crossing numbers along Bay to Bay.

The street is a county-owned road within Tampa city limits. A recent 10 Investigates report found the intersection at Lois is not considered one of the most dangerous in the county.

RELATED: Florida saw more than 701K crashes last year alone

At the same time, the report acknowledges Bay to Bay is over capacity. One portion of the report mentions the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office removing its crossing guard from the intersection due to safety concerns.

"If it's too dangerous for the sheriff's department, why not put a light in there so people can use this intersection safely?” Scherberger questioned.

RELATED: South Tampa community wants safety at deadly intersection

At the time of publication, the report states there have been 28 crashes at the intersection since 2016, including the crash that killed Ben Francis and Taylor Koulouris when their speeding motorcycle slammed into an SUV in December. Instead of installing a light, consultants recommend improvements like redoing lanes and adding a roundabout.

Scherberger says the engineering reports miss the mark.

"The most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation says that if there are six or more crashes at the intersection over a three-year period, then you should consider putting in a traffic signal. It is warranted,” she said.

The county says it has considered. A spokesperson said the county and the city have partnered to follow some of the study’s short-term recommendations like narrowing lanes, adding flashing beacons, removing parking spaces and trimming trees. Installing a light is not on the list.

"It's really disappointing that the county came out and had a bunch of meetings and talked about collaborating with us and then the study was not made available,” she said. “They did not follow up with us afterward. And it took us reaching out to them, a reporter reaching out to them to actually get copies of the study."

The other part of the equation is money. A light would cost a little over half a million dollars. And with other pressing projects, County Commissioner Harry Cohen previously told 10 Investigates the county just can't afford to fund this one at the moment.

“There's an $800 million list of projects county-wide that need to be done to improve safety, congestion, intersections sidewalks, signalization,” Cohen said to 10 Investigates in February.

RELATED: Money is the roadblock for improving a dangerous intersection that killed two teens

Neighbors say they understand, but the county must find better alternatives.

"Regardless of that, the responsibility of the city and the county is to provide safe walkways and intersections for everybody, and you got to figure out a way to do it,” Carroll Ann Bennett, vice president of the Virginia Park Neighborhood Association, said.

Bennett says she was working in her office the night Francis and Koulouris crashed.

“It was just so loud. So awful,” she said. “And I came running to the intersection, and there were several people here. And it was horrible. It was absolutely horrible."

Bennett says she believes a traffic light could have slowed them down and saved their lives.

"If there had been a traffic light here, those kids might be alive today,” she said, adding that it was just last month that a car hit another teen trying to cross the road on a bike. She says the area is dangerous for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

“Tampa has one of the highest pedestrian death rates in the country. We're always like number one or number two, so that means we're doing absolutely everything wrong,” she said. “We're the best at killing people, and that's not something we want to be the best at.”

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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