By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
PIERSON -- The Town Council wants things a bit more sluggish on Center Street.
The state Department of Transportation recently switched out signs on Center (U.S. 17) through the town, dropping the speed limit from 45 to 40 mph between Hagstrom Road and Palmetto Avenue. At its Tuesday, Feb. 12, regular meeting, the council unanimously voted to send a letter to the state asking it to shave off a little more speed through town.
"We thought 35, because we can't get another traffic light," Herbert Bennett, council member, said in an interview after the meeting. "We wanted one on Second Avenue."
The council has long asked the state for the second stop light. There's only one in town -- at the intersection of Center and Washington Ave. T. DeWitt Taylor Middle-High School and Pierson Elementary are near that intersection. Calls for the reduced speeds and additional traffic light increased after recent traffic fatalities on Center.
Sgt. Kim Montes, Florida Highway Patrol public information officer, said there have been two deadly accidents on Center in Pierson since 2011. Additionally, there have been 12 accidents without fatalities that resulted in seven injuries, which required some degree of medical care.
Steve Olson, public information manager for the transportation department, said the 40 mph limit was based on the sciences of traffic engineering.
"For Pierson, we completed a speed study in September 2012 for U.S. 17 through town," he said in an e-mailed response to questions. "We recommended changes that reduced the speed limit through much of Pierson. The part the town focused on/examined the most was the 45 mph zone, for which we recommended the change to 40 mph."
Nevertheless, Mr. Bennett said a speed limit of 45 mph simply means people will drive 50 to 55. A speed limit of 40 means they'll go 45 to 50. He said that to get people driving 40 mph, the speed limit will have to be 35. Mr. Bennett said commercial interests might be behind the state's reluctance to drop the speed limit to where the town council wants it.
"I believe the reason the state will go to 40 is because of the Walmart distribution center," he said.
About six years ago, the national retailer purchased about 225 acres just north of the county line near Crescent City to build an 850,000-square-foot distribution center that was projected to send and receive about 800 tractor trailers a day. Although Walmart has cleared legal hurdles put up by Volusia County to build the facility, work hasn't begun.
The council also asked for the state to expand U.S. 17 to four lanes from Barberville to north of Pierson.