Villager’s petition, unruly crowd confront Sumter commissioners

Sherrie Hyer
Sherrie Hyer

An unruly crowd confronted Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night on the issue of traffic safety along Morse Boulevard north of County Road 466.

Most of the 175 people who attended the meeting live in De La Vista and other neighborhoods along the boulevard.

They said conditions are not safe, especially for golf carts, because of speeding cars and the way the road is constructed.

Many came to the meeting to join villager Sherrie Hyer, who presented a petition to the commission with more than 1,000 signatures calling for safety improvements.

She began the petition drive after a neighbor, 85-year-old Frances Hughes, was killed Jan. 13 on Morse Boulevard when his golf cart collided with a van.

Peak traffic volume on Morse Boulevard has nearly doubled over the past six years to about 18,000 vehicles a day from about 9,500 in 2009, said county public works director Richard Baier. But he said the roadway usually remains in the range of its projected volume of about 15,000 vehicles a day.

Commissioners said they supported stronger law enforcement efforts to nab speeders as well as a program to improve signage visibility that is planned in next year’s county budget.

Villager's petition, unruly crowd confront Sumter commissioners
Villagers showed up for Tuesday’s meeting at Colony Cottage Recreation Center.

But they said capital improvements to the road would be expensive and time-consuming because they would require right-of-way acquisition from homeowners.

Morse Boulevard was upgraded with over $1 million in improvements six years ago that included left turn lanes, widened golf cart lanes and an additional traffic light.

“Things have changed,” said Commissioner Don Burgess, who has lived 17 years in The Villages. “I would agree it’s time maybe to take a look at this again.”

Commissioner Al Butler said some improvements, such as stepping up enforcement, will be easy to implement.

But Commissioner Doug Gilpin angered some in the crowd when he said the primary responsibility for safety lies with vehicle operators, including golf cart drivers who go faster than the 19.9 mph speed limit for unregistered vehicles.

“You’re talking to us like we’re a bunch of little kids,” shouted one man. “We don’t need a sermon,” another yelled.

During the public forum section of the meeting, residents aired their complaints about traffic safety on the boulevard.

“People think it’s NASCAR starting as soon as the gates open,” Hyer said.

Aileen Milton, a 20-year Villages resident, said, “You take your life into your hands getting out of the neighborhoods.”

We’ve lived here four years and we have seen an exceptional increase in traffic,” said Richard Brooks.

Donna Pierce said much of the traffic is due to drivers cutting through the area from County Road 466 to U.S. 27-441. Putting a stop sign at every intersection would put an end to it, she suggested.

“A number of people I know just have given up using their golf carts in the winter because they’re scared,” said CDD 1 Supervisor Ellen Cora. “We need a study of traffic in the winter – not in June when it’s light.”