TAMPA — Students who live in an apartment complex across from Middleton High School now may take a shuttle to and from school every day until the end of this school year.
District officials announced the new bus route from the Meridian Pointe complex on Thursday afternoon, following recent accidents where students were struck by vehicles as they tried to Hillsborough Avenue.
“We want to make sure we are as proactive as possible,” schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said at a news conference.
Meridian Pointe is less than one mile from Middleton High, but the 30 or so students who live in the complex must cross six lanes of traffic to reach the campus. Three teenagers have been struck — two of them Middleton High students — trying to cross Hillsborough Avenue in the past month.
The 25-passenger bus, which the school district attained through an outside company, will make two trips every morning and afternoon, said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. The bus will stop at the complex at 6:45 a.m. beginning Monday, and will return for early-morning stragglers at about 7 a.m. The bus will pick up students on campus at 3 p.m. to take them home.
The district will pay about $250 a day to use the bus until the end of the school year, when officials will assess whether students are using it, Arja said.
“This is something we can do in the short-term and that will have an immediate impact, we hope,” she said.
On the morning of March 18, two sisters who lived in Meridian Pointe, ages 14 and 15, were struck crossing Hillsborough on their way to Middleton. They did not use a crosswalk, authorities said.
The 15-year-old, Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, died a few days later from her injuries. Another Middleton student, 15-year-old Shenika Davis, was struck and killed in the same area in October 2011.
Last week, 18-year-old William Hogan was injured severely when he was struck while trying to cross Hillsborough at 40th Street. Police said he was crossing against a red light.
Elia said the district also is encouraging police officers to ticket jaywalkers on Hillsborough Avenue. And educating students of all ages about pedestrian safety is a top priority, she said.
“That isn’t in their head yet,” Elia said. “We’ve got to make sure we keep this in front of them.”
Middleton student and Meridian Pointe resident Krystal Cubero, 15, said she will encourage her fellow students to use the new bus or to use the crosswalk if they decide to walk. Still, she said, she knows some students will continue to make unsafe decisions.
“It’s a better thing to sit on the bus and wait than it is to risk our lives and cross the street in heavy traffic,” Cubero said.
Earlier this week representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation, the City of Tampa, the school district and the sheriff’s office discussed the traffic problems along Hillsborough and possible solutions. At that meeting officials said a plan was in place to install a signaled crosswalk near the apartment complex, but that the process would take about 16 months.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced Thursday the city will install more pedestrian signs and adjust the timing on seven traffic lights along Hillsborough — between Nebraska Avenue and 40th Street — so pedestrians will have more time to cross the road. The city will spend about $200,000 in revenue from red-light cameras to pay for the improvements.
“This is a start,” Buckhorn said in a statement, “and I will work with the Florida Department of Transportation to continue to look for opportunities to improve the Hillsborough Avenue corridor.”