Push could accelerate an expressway connection
By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
Every Saturday night, the Sunshine Speedway comes alive with stock cars. Last week, school buses whipped around the racetrack.
But every morning and afternoon, the traffic surrounding the speedway is anything but speedy. Some 85,000 drivers crowd onto nearby Ulmerton Road and Roosevelt Boulevard each day, cramming an area at the hub of Pinellas County's road network.
County commissioners hope to ease the congestion by speeding up plans to build an expressway that would provide a final link between I-275 in the south and the Bayside Bridge/McMullen-Booth corridor in the north.
"It's just such a needed project," said Commissioner Karen Seel, who is pushing for the change. "It would be a wonderful benefit to connect north and south county."
Commissioners recently sent a wish list to U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, the Largo Republican who heads the powerful House Appropriations Committee. The list describes all the projects for which the county hopes to get federal funding. The biggest item on the $77-million list: $25-million to buy land for the Roosevelt connector.
The $242-million project would run from the south end of the Bayside Bridge, then southeast down Roosevelt Boulevard before turning south to cross Ulmerton and link to 118th Avenue.
A separate state transportation project to link 118th Avenue to I-275 already is under way. But the connector phase has no money. Right now, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to do some preliminary engineering work this year and next.
But actually buying land and building the road isn't on the state's five-year plan. State plans say only that it should be built sometime between 2008 and 2025.
County officials hope that a jump-start from Congress could change that.
"That would allow them to push it up into the work program" over the next five years, said Al Bartolotta, a county planner. "That's what happened on U.S. 19, basically."
Young's spokesman, Harry Glenn, said it's too soon to say whether Pinellas can get the money. And Florida DOT spokeswoman Marian Pscion said it's too soon to say whether the state could move the project into its five-year work plan if the federal money comes through.
"It would get us closer to a position to get the rest of the right of way," she said. "It would make it easier."
The county also is asking for federal help on several other projects, including $6-million for Gulf Boulevard improvements and $7-million to repair and rebuild various county bridges. County officials hope for $18-million for work at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, such as improving runways and beefing up security. And they've asked for $3-million to help build a fire and EMS training facility.
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