A few months back, Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said he had heard from residents about the need for a traffic light at the intersection of Gospel Island at S.R. 44, about three miles east of Inverness.
With the county commission’s backing, Kinnard went up the chain and asked the Florida Department of Transportation to study it. FDOT did and, sure enough, said it meets the warrants for a signal.
End of story, right? Not necessarily.
In what we hope is not a sign of things to come, FDOT apparently says the signal will cost upwards of $1 million (!) and the state doesn’t have that money right now so, golly gee Citrus County, if YOU could help pay for it, they'd be able to get it done faster.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this suggestion.
Advantages: The signals are installed faster, making the intersection safer.
Disadvantages: Everything else.
Traffic signals aren’t complicated. Either they’re needed or they’re not. The county and state generally use similar criteria based on crash reports, peak-hour traffic counts, left and right turns, that sort of thing.
Unlike road projects, which are spread out funding-wise over the FDOT’s five-year work program, traffic signals generally aren’t planned that far in advance. The need is based on now, not next week.
Yet, FDOT can’t just drop what it’s doing so that the Gospel Island-S.R. 44 intersection is safer. And it can’t ignore the issue either since it was, you know, its own report that said a signal is needed.
So it has an idea: Get buy-in from the county.
Look at the basic facts:
County asks for a traffic signal study. State does study, determines the need for a signal. State tells the county it’ll install signals and other improvements right away if the county helps financially. Otherwise, who knows when the work will get done.
That seems a little heavy handed at best. And it sets a terrible precedent.
What it tells counties and cities is their projects move up the ladder if they open the wallet. It’s slipping the maître d a fin to get a table away from the kitchen.
Now, that said, FDOT's suggestion is not entirely out of the realm of reality. Done correctly, the county can benefit greatly from FDOT partnerships.
It was 25 years ago, probably more, when the state was widening S.R. 44 between Inverness and Crystal River. A section in Lecanto west of C.R. 491 was going to be delayed because of funding. The county pitched in, bought right of way to keep the project on schedule, and then the state reimbursed the county when it had the money.
That said, though, the Gospel Island situation appears totally differently. Here’s how Kinnard put it in the agenda backup for Tuesday’s board meeting, where this will be discussed. (Here's the full agenda.)
FDOT, he said, “is seeking financial contributions from local governments to potentially expedite FDOT projects. The project currently being considered is the traffic light at Gospel Island and SR44 which FDOT confirmed the traffic light is justified. We understand that the greater the local match the more quickly a project will move up on the FDOT list of projects.”
Well, there you go. The more local money involved, the faster we’re likely to see a traffic signal at Gospel Island. Bartering for a red light.
The idea of the county pitching in on state projects is fairly common. The county has received beaucoup bucks for septic-to-sewer projects mainly because we pony up our fair share. And all these county road resurfacing projects — not to be confused with neighborhood streets — is part of a state funding program that pays for 75% of the work.
Partnerships, when well defined, are beneficial to the state, county and taxpayers.
The estimate for this signal is $750,000 to $1 million because it includes turn lanes (not sure how that’s related) and the agenda info doesn’t say what the state would like to see in the form of county participation. Don’t know if it’s a few dollars or if we should give FDOT our debit card.
A traffic light is warranted at Gospel Island Road/S.R. 44. The state’s own experts say so. We’ll get an idea Tuesday what exactly that signals.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.