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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2020 3 months ago

Waterleigh residents lobby for traffic signal

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A temporary signal is coming soon to the intersection of Avalon Road and Flamingo Crossings Boulevard following a history of accidents.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Changes are coming to a Horizon West intersection many local residents and drivers consider dangerous.

The intersection of Flamingo Crossings Boulevard and Avalon Road — right across from the Waterleigh community — has sparked concern from residents due to the nature of a number of factors playing into its overall safety.

It’s where the two-lane Avalon Road meets with Flamingo Crossings Boulevard to the east and Waterway Passage Drive — the only entrance to Waterleigh — to the west. However, the intersection currently does not have a signal and thru-traffic on Avalon Road doesn’t stop, making it difficult to cross over or turn left onto the main road.

And with both Waterleigh getting closer to full buildout and an apartment complex being built nearby, there are more cars on the road than ever before. Valerie Mihalek, a Waterleigh resident, and her neighbors all shared the same concern for safety at the intersection.

“It became very clear to me, along with other residents, that we were in trouble here,” Mihalek said. “To make a left out of our community, there’s a hill on Avalon Road, and it’s like a blind spot. If you try and make a left or go straight to Flamingo Crossings, which takes you into Disney …  it’s like taking your life in your hands. You’re stopped at a stop sign and … you have people coming down Avalon over the hill. All of the sudden they hit an intersection, and there’s a car there. Years ago, it was never an issue because there wasn’t development there.”

As the third fastest-growing master-planned community in the nation, Horizon West and its residents have experienced many growing pains. Its population more than doubled in just five years, and there is still a long road ahead to achieving full buildout.

One of those growing pains is the necessary infrastructure, which has had a tough time keeping up with the rate of growth. Although Orange County is working on widening Avalon Road from two to four lanes in the Waterleigh area, a traffic signal for the Flamingo Crossings Boulevard intersection still is underway.

Mihalek and her neighbors estimate there have been at least three accidents at the intersection within the past few weeks, including one in which a dump truck plowed into the community’s waterfall entrance.

In the past, calming measures such as rumble strips and traffic signs warning of the blind hill have been installed. However, Mihalek said, a signal — even a temporary one — is needed now more than ever.

“It was bad from the moment they started building because of the situation of the blind hill and the speed on Avalon Road,” she said. “Our intersection is not an isolated incident. There are many throughout the county that are in really dangerous situations because of the rapid growth, and the county not being proactive in anticipating the growth and having the infrastructure in place first before the development takes place. … To me, that’s a big part of the problem. It seems as if the developers come first and the residents come second, and that’s wrong.”

Following the dump truck accident, District 1 Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey held an emergency meeting with staff and the developer/contractor team regarding the intersection. As the project progresses toward final completion, new measures are being implemented.

This includes flashing beacons prior to the intersection warning drivers to watch for entering vehicles. Traffic will be switched to the new northbound roadway by the end of July as the widening project continues. And design of a temporary signal is in the works for implementation by the end of July.

“With all traffic switched to the new northbound roadway, temporary signal heads will be installed at this time to provide full signalization to the intersection,” VanderLey said. “The temporary signal is required to be put in flashing mode for two weeks before normal operation can begin.” 

In an email VanderLey sent prior to Memorial Day weekend, she said the projected completion date for signalization of the intersection is Sept. 3. Following the emergency meeting, though, VanderLey said normal operation of the temporary signal is expected to begin by mid-August. Full signalization of the intersection will continue throughout the rest of the project construction phases until the end of October, she said.

VanderLey added the intersection has remained a priority for the county, and its original installation timeline already has been moved up. However, she said, there are a number of factors out of the county’s control. One such factor is backlog in manufacturing of signal equipment because of a shortage of national vendors.

“I wholly understand and agree with the frustration we’re all feeling in this, and I am truly saddened by the report of accidents here,” she wrote. “With that, the fact that this is under construction should serve as encouragement that we are actively addressing this pressing need. I want you to be assured that the promise of installing a signal in as timely a manner as possible has remained on the fast track, and we will continue to see it through to fruition.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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