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    Bus transfer to pose 6-lane hurdle

    By April, construction at the Clearwater Mall site will require passengers to cross a busy roadway.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- Some Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus riders will have to cross six lanes of traffic this spring to make a bus transfer.

    With the closing of Clearwater Mall, PSTA will no longer have access to a bus stop near the mall's food court. That will affect bus routes 19, 60 and 62 starting Sunday.

    A new temporary stop will be erected near the Clearwater Fire Station on Sky Harbor Drive off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. Buses will enter and exit the new bus stop on Sky Harbor Drive via Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, with the exception of the southbound Route 19, which will leave via Seville Boulevard.

    But by April, the new stop will be closed because construction on the mall site will bar PSTA from the vicinity of the mall. When that happens, passengers will have to cross a busy roadway to transfer to another bus in the area, said PSTA executive director Roger Sweeney.

    For example, a passenger traveling south on U.S. 19 who wants to go west on Gulf-to-Bay would have to cross the busy boulevard and catch a bus on the other side.

    "From the passenger point of view, it's not a good situation," Sweeney said.

    Route 19, which travels along U.S. Highway 19 from Tarpon Springs to Maximo Plaza, also will be affected. Buses that exit U.S. 19 will use Drew Street, Coachman Road and Gulf-to-Bay to help passengers make the transfer to east-west routes.

    What will happen to the routes after the Clearwater Mall land is redeveloped is in some dispute.

    Sweeney said members of his staff were told the developers of the new shopping center at the site would not put a bus stop there -- meaning transferring passengers would have to cross six lanes of traffic indefinitely.

    The matter had been closed, Sweeney said, until a reporter started inquiring about the bus route changes.

    City Manager Bill Horne said that when the site plans were drawn for a land swap between the city and the mall's owners, a PSTA bus stop was placed on city land. But the city, seeing an opportunity to put land on the tax rolls, presented an alternative plan, which didn't include a PSTA bus stop.

    "We didn't feel an obligation to have to accommodate PSTA on our property, and the new mall owners obviously do not want to accommodate them on their property," Horne said.

    But a Sembler Company executive said Thursday that the project site plans still are in the preliminary stages. Steve Althoff, vice president of operations for the Sembler Company, said he has scheduled a meeting with PSTA administrators this afternoon to discuss two conceptual designs, both of which include a bus stop for PSTA.

    "We will design a bus stop for our customers to come in and out of the shopping center. That we will do," Althoff said.

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