I-Team: U.S. 19 corridor in north Pinellas is dangerous for motorists

Intersections there top traffic crash list

PALM HARBOR - Tampa Road and U.S. 19 in north Pinellas County looks like any major bay area crossroad.

Until you notice the billboards advertising personal-injury lawyers and a chiropractor hovering over the intersection. And the curious driving habits of U-turning, lane-changing and red-light-ignoring motorists speeding by.

More injury crashes occur along this portion of U.S. 19 than anywhere else in Pinellas or Hillsborough County, according to an analysis of state traffic accident data by the ABC Action News I-Team.

MORE: Tampa Bay's 10 worst intersections

"Sometimes, it's two or three or several a day," automobile repair shop owner Kevin Gallant told the I-Team. Unfortunately for Gallant's business on the corner of Tampa Road, his mechanics fix automobile engines --- not fenders.

Gallant is so disgusted by what he sees every day that he lets a state trooper use his property to pull over drivers and write tickets. "I mean, the guy can't even put his car in park by the time he's pulling out," Gallant said, "getting another one."

The I-Team analysis shows 86 crashes happened at Gallant's corner in 2012 alone, resulting in 47 injuries. Three of the five bay area intersections with the most crashes were in Palm Harbor, including U.S. 19 at Tampa Road.

Palm Harbor Fire Rescue District Chief Scott Sanford sees a pattern with the crashes in his jurisdiction.

"Most of our accidents are primarily due to distracted drivers. Someone with a cellphone, GPS," said Sanford. "Technology's great when it's used properly. But, unfortunately, it's also quite the distracter as well."

Across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's campaign to promote bicycling as a way to attract hip young professionals to his city's urban core is being undermined by the high number of autos running into and injuring cyclists.

"It is embarrassing, and it is alarming," said Gena Torres, a crash-prevention expert with Hillsborough's transportation planning agency. "We want people to move here and businesses to come here. If people are getting hurt, it's just not good for business."

Although Torres sees trouble spots on Hillsborough and Fletcher avenues, the state data pinpoint Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue as the worst spot for traffic crack-ups in her county.

"Intersection crashes are problematic for law enforcement," Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins told the I-Team as he stood near that intersection. "We need drivers to make sure they put down the distractions. Pay attention to the signals."

Along with getting drivers to focus on driving, Torres said heavily traveled roads are being redesigned where traffic tends to bottleneck.

"If you have the room, certain things like roundabouts," Torres said, "that actually does a lot of good things when it comes to the flow of traffic."

The traffic intersections in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties with the most crashes in 2012.

View Tampa Bay's most dangerous roadways in a full screen map

Parts of U.S. 19 have been raised off the right-of-way in Clearwater. The elevated highway reduces the potential for collisions at crossing roads. The Florida Department of Transportation has plans to do the same farther north in Palm Harbor, where so many crashes are taking place along U.S. 19. The road construction work is in the engineering phase right now, with the final price tag estimated at almost $400 million.


Do you have information about government waste, fraud or abuse? A tip about business misconduct that needs to be investigated? Email us at iteam@abcactionnews.com.

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