After listening to a parade of speakers from Grace Tabernacle Church, Sumter County commissioners Tuesday night agreed to reconsider installing a left-turn lane at the church along Warm Springs Avenue.
Church members argued that the left-turn lane is needed for the safety of people coming for services and to the food pantry.
Before the recent widening of the road, church members coming from The Villages were able to turn left to reach the church. Now, a median blocks those turns and drivers must go down the road to either make a U-turn or use a roundabout.
Commissioner Garry Breeden said the county’s public works department should reconsider the left-turn lane.
“Let’s see if there’s a solution and conditions might be met,” he said. “I want to be satisfied that we’ve looked at everything.”
Paul Erdman said his Live Oaks Church holds Saturday night services at Grace Tabernacle, drawing up to 600 people. On March 7, a congregation member was injured in a fall.
He said it took an ambulance about fifteen minutes to arrive even though the fire station is a few miles up the road. The ambulance could not turn left into the church, so the driver needed to go further down the road to find a place to turn around. The injured person died five days later.
Erdman said his priority is “keeping our people safe.”
Years ago, the church received about $600,000 for property that was turned over to the county for widening the road.
“We never thought that the result would deny access to our property,” said the Rev. Gary Washburn, the church pastor.
He said the lack of left turn access adds nearly four minutes to emergency calls.
County Administrator Bradley Arnold said U-turns at Meggison Road could become easier after installation of a traffic signal is completed. Church members who don’t want to make a U-turn can go farther west and use a roundabout.
“There are options for the drivers,” he said, adding that the county has removed designated left-turn lanes at other locations for safety reasons.
But church members said hundreds of cars making U-turns or using the roundabout is unsafe.
“People are going to get hurt,” one member said. “People are going to get killed.”