CLEARWATER, Fla. — Dangerous and downright scary. That's how some drivers describe Drew Street in Clearwater. It’s the corridor connecting US-19 to downtown Clearwater.
For years, ABC Action News has shown you the safety concerns on the roadway, but now after yet another deadly crash, many of you reached out to us wondering why it’s taking so long for transportation leaders to step in.
Every day for 13 years, Kenny Thomas has heard the same sounds as he cuts hair inside All Pro Cutz Barber Shop: Ambulance and police sirens.
“It’s wild! It’s very crazy. We’ve seen cars actually go through this building,” he explained pointing to the last business in the strip mall where his barber shop is located.
Memorials along Drew Street are a constant reminder of the danger driving there. Numbers from the Department of Highway Safety found over a 5 year stretch, there were more than 1,600 crashes along Drew Street.
Sara Jaehnig works at Lil Hippy and has to drive on Drew Street daily. “It can be really nerve wracking honestly,” she said.
On Wednesday, March 17th, Clearwater Police Officers responded to another fatal crash. Detectives say 19-year-old Lacedric Graham of Tampa crossed over the center lane into oncoming traffic and smashed head on into 78-year-old Nicholas Fritz of Clearwater, who was in a pickup truck. Graham died and at last check, Fritz is still in the hospital with serious injuries.
One of the biggest dangers along Drew Street is how close cars get to one another. The lanes are only 9 1/2 feet wide in some sections. Transportation leaders say that’s not even up to current FDOT standards.
Speeding is another major issue.
Whit Blanton of Forward Pinellas has been conducting traffic studies to see what improvements can be made to make the road safer. “The average speed in that segment where the fatal crash was between Crest Avenue and Highland Avenue tends to be around 53 miles per hour on a 40 mile per hour road. That’s the average speed,” he elaborated.
So, if transportation leaders know there are major safety issues here, what’s taking so long to fix them?
We pressed FDOT leaders for answers and found out they’re working right now to study the best solutions to increase safety including options like widening lanes, adding sidewalks and even looking at a speed limit reduction. Yet, one of their top options isn’t a favorite amongst some drivers. They’re looking at going down to one lane in each direction with a new dedicated left turn lane.
“It might help with the accidents but it’s going to make a lot of locals mad with the traffic because it’s going to slow everybody down,” Jaehnig added.
Blanton says studies where similar lane reductions were completed did not show a drastic delay in commutes, but it’s only one option FDOT is studying.
The good news: FDOT leaders do have funding in place to start construction on whatever options are agreed upon between community members, businesses, city and county leaders and transportation experts within 3 years.
Also, since the street is split into three jurisdictions-- city, county and state, having FDOT take the lead should help to bring all involved groups together to work on changes.
Until then, Melvin Brown says he’ll keep changing up his route to avoid Drew Street. “It makes me very nervous. I try not to drive on it. I go up the side streets,” he said.