PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — US-19 is one of the most dangerous roads in Pinellas County, with thousands of crashes every year.
The road has gained a reputation over the years and an unfortunate nickname from some drivers who call it "death valley." Yet, changes are coming to make the highway safer. Construction will start in 2022 on new overpasses along the most crash-prone stretch of the roadway.
Annie Cummings is all too familiar with the danger. She's confronted with it daily during her trek along the US-19 corridor in her motorized wheelchair.
"I refer to it as murder highway," she explained. I was born with no arms and no legs, and I can't even reach the pedestrian crosswalk buttons. I look at the lights, and that's how I do it on my own," she added.
Cummings says she's had too many close calls to count, including a time her wheelchair stalled in the middle of the highway.
"Every single day I tell my mom I love her just in case because you never know what's going to happen."
Too many cars going too fast is the problem, transportation officials say.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, there have been more than 3,300 crashes, 1,100 injuries, and 13 deaths on just the 3.4 mile stretch of US-19 from 580 to Tampa Road in the past five years.
Starting in 2022, drivers will see a big improvement: Flyovers from 580 to Curlew Road and additional overpasses planned for north of that area.
Kris Carson, FDOT Tampa Bay's spokesperson, says it should make a big difference in improving safety.
"You have two different types of traffic out there and some is almost interstate type traffic, people who are going fairly quick to get through the area," she explained. "Then, you have more locals trying to get to businesses. When you mix those two together, sometimes it's not a great mix but by building these overpasses you separate those two types of traffic so it does make the area safer."
FDOT also released new renderings showing what the overpasses will look like. There will also be underpasses for pedestrians, which offers a car-free path under US-19.
At No Waiting Barber Shop in Clearwater, clients are buzzing over the idea.
"A lot of my clientele are elderly people, and they are afraid to drive now on US-19 because of its reputation," owner Frank Goduto said.
His business is on US-19 right where the new overpasses will be constructed.
Goduto hopes his business will survive the construction— and people will be able to find his shop once the overpasses go up.
"I think the overpass will do a lot of good for the people, for the businesses I don't think it will help right away," he said adding that he has mixed feelings about the change.
FDOT says once construction starts in 2022, it will take three to four years to finish, but they expect crashes along US-19 to decrease significantly.