City asks FDOT for red light changes

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee City Council members don’t like to sit at red lights nor do many of their constituents.

At their June 20 meeting, the council had a chance to ask questions of the Florida Department of Transportation about how they operate the red lights on State Road 70.

Mark Every, FDOT District One specialist gave the council a crash course on Time Space Diagrams or TSDs. He said the FDOT made changes to the light to accommodate the intersection improvements.

“We increased the cycle to get more traffic going,” he told the council.

Mayor Dowling Watford said his main concern is backups and the waste of time at red lights.

“My main concern is to get through that light. With all these improvements it seems worse,” he said.

Okeechobee residents often take side streets to get around the main light to save time. This puts more of a strain on city streets. Backups are common on SR 70 east and west and also on U.S. 441 south during times of peak traffic and during the winter months.

Mayor Watford said he is often perturbed by waiting on the light when no traffic is coming.

The current cycle accommodates more time for motorists south bound on U.S. 441 who attempt to make a left turn onto SR 70 east. Each traffic cycle lasts for 140 seconds. North bound traffic get 16 seconds of green time to make the turn onto SR 70 west while south bound traffic on U.S. 441 gets over 20 seconds.

Mr. Every said it is like a pizza pie and if you take some time from one side of traffic, another side loses time.

The FDOT plan is designed to fit the 25 mph speed in the main parts of downtown. Since motorists rarely obey the speed limit there, they don’t get the benefit. According to their data, motorists on SR 70 who travel 25 mph should be able to pass through each intersection without ever getting a red light.

Council member Monica Clark said her main concern was U.S. 441. She said backups are a regular habit for north bound traffic on U.S. 441, with the traffic sometimes stopped four to five blocks south of the main light.

“If you have a truck turning left, you might get three cars through the intersection,” she said. “That is the majority of the problem and it’s horrible.”

She said many motorists run the red light because they are tired of waiting, which adds to traffic hazards.

Mr. Every said one possible solution is a redesign of U.S. 441 in the north bound lane to return a right hand turn lane for those trying to turn onto SR 70 east.

Council member Gary Ritter said he also sees problems on Southwest Fifth Avenue, because the red light on SR 70 takes too long to turn green.

“I’ve seen vehicles backed up onto S.W. Park Street that are sitting in the middle of the street,” he said.

Council member Clark also requested the FDOT study again the need for a red light on U.S. 441 north at Ninth Street. She said she has installed cameras to record all the accidents that occur there.

“I don’t know if a light is the answer but something has to happen there,” she added.

City Police Chief Robert Peterson said the Ninth Street intersection is the worst in the city.

“It has the greatest potential for disaster because trucks try to get out,” he said. “If there is anything you can do, that is the intersection to do it on.”

City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca suggested more traffic counts be taken to better regulate the main light.

FDOT officials agreed that Okeechobee could see additional traffic on SR 70 once the four-lane project is completed.

FDOT Supervisor Heath Slater said the discussion went well as the city learned the FDOT has an open mind and will make adjustments if needed.

He said a priority will be to continue the 25 mile per hour speed through the downtown area on SR 70. He noted current studies show the average speed is 10 miles over the speed limit in those areas of town.

He said a safety study and discussion will take place to review crash data at the Ninth St. intersection.

“Crashes will be reviewed to see if the data supports the light. Without data we don’t know what to fix.

We can’t just do it, we have to review the types of crashes, hold a safety session, and figure out solutions.”

Mr. Slater said they did learn things they weren’t aware of and could study again the amount of time the light remains red at 441 and 70 to help traffic flow.

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