How can officials make stretch of I-75 safer after deadly crash?

I-TEAM: Task force created to make I-75 safer, but solutions never pursued

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Ashley Harding - Reporter

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. - Several communities are heartbroken and left with questions following Thursday’s crash that killed five children visiting from Marksville, Louisiana, along with two others. 

For drivers in Alachua County, Thursday’s wreck was not the first crash of this magnitude along this stretch of road. Many other serious crashes have taken place along Interstate 75 in the Alachua/Marion counties area:

  • In 2012, a horrific wreck on I-75 near the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park killed 11 people.
  • In July 2017, a tractor-trailer struck an RV that had pulled off the side of I-75 near Micanopy. The bassist for a metal band based out of New York was killed. 
  • Hours later, a semi-truck driver caused a nine-vehicle wreck after failing to stop and hitting a guardrail on I-75 near Belleview in Marion County.  One person died, several more were injured.

State and local officials have worked to get answers on how to make I-75 safer. It's such a dangerous stretch of road that Sgt. Art Forgey with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office advises avoiding it.

"It's bad enough that I tell my friends and loved ones not to get on the interstate," Forgey said.

At one point, the idea of building a new road between Alachua and Marion counties was discussed but never materialized. The purpose would have been to offset I-75 traffic.

A task force was also created to study documented problems on I-75. Ultimately, that task force made a series of recommendations, including implementing truck-only lanes, expanding freight rail alternatives and enhancing intercity bus service.

But, as the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned, it doesn't appear as though anyone ever acted on those recommendations. Matt Surrency, mayor of Hawthorne and one of the task force's members, said he hasn't seen any of the changes yet.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, local governments have shut down most of the ideas, or at least put them off. That's a source of frustration to Surrency, whose committee offered some viable guidance.

"I think that you get frustrated after awhile, especially with the pace government works at sometimes," he said.

Because the cause of Thursday's crash remains under active investigation, Surrency was reluctant to point fingers. Instead of trying to find someone to blame, he said, now is the time to band together and take action.

"It's something we can do this year," Surrency said.

The number of crashes in Alachua County has increased overall, according to data from the Florida Highway Patrol. In 2017, there were 55 fatal vehicle crashes -- an increase from both 2015 and 2016.

For now, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office is looking at increasing patrols along that stretch of highway. Currently, state troopers and deputies work the road together, but the sheriff wants more resources to deter dangerous driving.

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