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Roundabout likely for Whiddon Ave fix

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By Kellie Parkin

Representing the City of Cedar Key, CRA interim Director Greg Lang spoke to the School Board of Levy County Tuesday about Whiddon Ave. and options to improve safety throughout the school zone and surrounding area. Options presented include placing a three-way all-stop or a continuous all-yield traffic roundabout at the intersection of Whiddon and H Street.

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There will be no cost to the School Board for the proposed changes in front of the school, said Lang. The Community Redevelopment Agency is paying for the Whiddon Ave. improvements as part of a joint project with the Cedar Key Water and Sewer District in which the water main beneath the street is slated for replacement.

Meeting participants expressed a consensus that the school zone area is dangerous and long in need of redesign. The project requires support from the many entities that hold property rights within its boundaries including SBLC, the City of Cedar Key, the Water District, and the Board of Levy County Commissioners.

Superintendent Bob Hastings, former Cedar Key School principal, expressed his concern for the safety of the students and the drivers. “This has been a concern for 20 years. There’s a very dangerous blind corner,” he said. “When trying to leave the parking lot in front you can look and see that it’s clear and by the time you are backing out there’s a car coming around the corner at 35 mph.”

Board member Beth Davis, a resident of Cedar Key and former CKS teacher, agreed, pointing out that traffic backs up during school drop off and pick up, increasing the potential for accidents.

Cedar Key Police Chief Virgil Sandlin and CKS Principal Sue Ice also attended the meeting to provide input and support for the project.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get someone hit if we don’t do something about it,“ Chief Sandlin said. “My biggest concern is the back side of the school in the afternoon,” said Chief Sandlin. “If there’s some way we can do something in the back parking lot to get the cars off the road – we need to do it.”

Principal Ice agreed. “I’m very concerned about the back part of the school,” she said. “Trying to leave at the end of the day is tough. I would like to see more parking in the back for students.

The main difference between the two proposed options lies in the intersection of Whiddon and H. The current no-stop curve often results in drivers crossing the center yellow line while navigating through the pass. This is especially the case for the many trucks and boat trailers that utilize the road. The new traffic engineering plans call for either a three-way “t-shaped” stop or a “circular intersection” more commonly known as a roundabout.

Board member Frank Etheridge pointed out that the sharp turn that comes with the three-way stop would be more difficult for trailers carrying equipment and boats, as well as for the school buses.

The idea of a roundabout is growing, Ice said. “When I first heard about the roundabout I didn’t really like it… and I thought bus drivers wouldn’t either, but the more I’ve thought about it, I think it’s a good idea.”

Lang confirmed this perspective. “With circular intersections, 75 percent of people who see them say they don’t like them, and then 80% of people who use them say they do like them, so its almost a complete turnaround,” he said.

Board members were in general agreement that a roundabout is the most efficient solution.

A roundabout may encourage drivers to take the alternate route on H Street, especially during peak times, Lang said. H Street is also slated to be resurfaced.

With City commissioners and School Board members brought up to speed, Lang will present the same information to the Water District and the school SAC committee later this week. Information packets are available at Town Hall for residents interested in learning more or visit cedarkeybeacon.com to view preliminary artist renderings of the two proposed options.