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Changes coming to bridge intersection


The new speed sign that flashes at southbound motorists on Indian River Boulevard is just the first sign of changes coming to the intersection at the western end of the Barber Bridge where a college rower was killed in a crash in January.

A new traffic signal with a flashing yellow light to caution southbound drivers to be aware of northbound traffic before turning left onto the bridge will be installed within the next two weeks, state officials say.

Along with the new traffic signal, permanent flashing signs alerting motorists of their speed will be installed by May near the intersection, which is under Florida Department of Transportation jurisdiction. Vegetation at the intersection will be trimmed so it won’t obscure motorists’ view of the road and other vehicles, and Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said traffic enforcement at the intersection will intensify in coming weeks.

Depending on the impact of those changes, the southbound left turn lane could be lengthened, and other additional traffic signals installed, to reduce collisions at the accident-prone intersection.

While road improvements typically take years to design and implement, safety upgrades at the intersection are happening at light speed following the Jan. 15 death of Grace Rett, a member of the College of the Holy Cross women’s rowing team, which was in town to train on the Indian River Lagoon. 

The coach driving the van in which Rett was traveling failed to yield the right-of-way while making a left turn onto the Barber Bridge. That failure resulted in a crash that sent a dozen people to the hospital and caused the death of Rett, who had celebrated her 20th birthday the day before.

Currently, a green arrow periodically gives southbound drivers turning left onto the bridge the right of way to make the turn. Southbound traffic can also turn onto the bridge when there is a solid green signal but must yield to northbound traffic.

It is that failure to yield – due to recklessness, inattention or miscalculation – that causes most of the crashes at the intersection, local and state officials said.

It is also true that the three-way intersection handles a mind-boggling number of vehicles, with an average of 81,400 per day passing through, which amounts to 29.7 million vehicles a year, according to FDOT’s latest data.

Since 2014, the intersection has experienced 58 crashes with 38 injuries and two deaths, including Rett’s. Air Force Colonel Christopher Hannon, 58, was struck and killed by a 1998 Chevrolet while bicycling through the intersection in 2018, attempting to turn left onto the bridge.

The crash numbers exclude minor “fender-bender” type accidents.

Florida Department of Transportation District 4 Traffic Engineer Mark Plass last week announced the changes coming to the intersection after an agency traffic audit conducted in late January.

While the soon-to-be-installed flashing yellow light is in use, FDOT officials will monitor traffic data to determine if using a red left turn arrow on Indian River Boulevard would make the intersection even safer.

Officials want to know if a red arrow would back up the southbound left turn lane and lead to more rear end crashes. FDOT will also consider lowering the speed limit on the approach to the intersection, Plass added.

“We don’t want to do something that creates a different problem,” Plass said.

The current posted speed limit of 45 mph is often ignored by motorists whose median speed is 60 MPH, state officials said.

Vero Beach police will also step up speeding enforcement in the coming days – another recommendation by FDOT.

“We’ll give that speed trailer an effort for a few days as a reminder and then we’ll follow that up with pretty heavy enforcement,” Vero Beach police Chief David Currey said.