DAVENPORT – When the state installed a traffic signal light on U.S. 27 at the entrance to the Legacy Park development, it was a major relief to the residents living there.
Making the left hand turn into the subdivision had been a challenge for anyone traveling north on U.S. 27, said Kathy Oldro, the property manager at Legacy Park, because there’s usually a steady flow of cars – many trucks included – zipping along in the southbound lane.
The only problem in the months since the light went up is that the accidents continued. And in some cases, they’ve led to fatal injuries, Oldro said.
“We have had so many fatalities in the last few months, it’s ridiculous,” she said. “And the light was actually put up a year and a half ago. And obviously the reason it was put up to begin with was too many accidents.”
The problem turned out to be something simple – and, for the residents of this development made up of 1,062 single family homes, quite frustrating.
If a car is traveling northbound on U.S. 27 and comes to the traffic light at Legacy Park Boulevard, they can get into the left hand turn lane and wait for the signal to turn green.
Under normal circumstances, when that light goes green, it means the signal for the southbound traffic has turned red, halting those cars.
But in this case, it doesn’t. The left hand turn lane light for northbound traffic goes green – but so does the light for southbound traffic.
Oldro said it makes no sense whatsoever.
“If you’re making a left hand turn, the light should be red for oncoming traffic,” she said. “The one at Legacy doesn’t do that, it stays green. There is a turn arrow that is green, and the southbound traffic light remains green as well.”
It’s been completely confusing for Northeast Polk County motorists, she said, particularly since this tourism-friendly region attracts not only tourists and snowbirds from all over the country, but international visitors and Europeans in large numbers.
“How many people who drive in Florida are from Florida?” she asked. “I’ve been driving here for seven years. If I stop there and see a green turn light, I’m thinking that means I can safely go.”
Ron DeCarlo, the president of the Legacy Park Master Association, said it’s been a headache for the development for months.
“It took four years and 20 deaths to have that light put in,” he said. Now the situation seems as bad as ever.
But complaints to the Florida Department of Transportation, which installed the light, have fallen on deaf ears, he said.
“I’ve called Polk County, and they referred me to FDOT. According to what FDOT has told me, the (state) statute says that it should be a solid green ball (light), which means proceed with caution,” DeCarlo said. “But the problem is since we’re in an international state, the Brits are on vacation, they get in that lane, and turn, and they think the southbound traffic is on red — and they get into accidents.”
Ironically, a similar traffic light right up the road at the Polo Park development entrance operates in the traditional way. When the left turn light is green for northbound traffic turning into Polk Park, the light for southbound traffic is red.
Oldro has also contacted the state to complain, to no avail.
“When I called the state and explained it to the state several times, they said the light is accurate, that a green light means proceed with caution,” she said. “I said there have been so many accidents over there, and there have been fatalities, but they said the statistics are down from previous times when there wasn’t a light there.
“But there is still an issue with the oncoming traffic,” she added. “We had a huge palm tree at the entrance to Legacy Park, and the state contacted me and said you have to move your tree, and we had to move it back 300 feet so people could see the light. And I think in the past year, there have been at least four fatalities in that vicinity, and numerous fender benders. And they still say that light is legal according to Florida statute.”
Cindy Clemens, public information officer for FDOT’s District 1 office, which covers Polk County, confirmed that. She said the traffic signal at Legacy Park Boulevard has a green ball, not a turn arrow.
“An arrow means you ahve the right of way,” Clemens said. “A ball means you proceed with caution.”
DeCarlo said they’re hoping to bring attention to this issue – and hopefully convince the state to make the changes needed to make this traffic signal safer. He noted that Polk County is building a new public park across the street, next to the neighboring Bass Lake development, and when it opens, traffic along this stretch of U.S. 27 is likely to get even busier — and potentially more dangerous.
“Now as soon as the park opens up, you’re going to have increased traffic, too, and we’re like, hey, we’ve already had two cars slam into our grass, and we had one kid spin out of control and he took out one of our lights there,” DeCarlo said. “If you had a pedestrian standing there waiting for the light, they get taken out, too.”
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