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    A Times Editorial

    A celebratory pop as traffic bottlenecks end

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 23, 2002

    Ask residents of northern Pinellas County what is their biggest frustration about living here, and invariably they will answer, "the traffic." Transportation issues top the list of local concerns, and no wonder. An inadequate road network, heavy seasonal traffic, lack of an interstate, and some of the most dangerous roads and intersections in the state make driving here a constant irritation.

    Sometimes it has seemed that officials' promises of road projects that would ease our pain were empty, as everything from budget problems to soaring costs for right of way purchases to lawsuits brought delay after delay.

    However, has anyone noticed that it is getting a little easier to get around mid and north Pinellas?

    Some long-completed projects helped. The Bayside Bridge, the widening of McMullen-Booth Road, the extension of Belcher Road north of Curlew Road, the U.S. 19 overpasses over East Bay Drive and Ulmerton Road were among the past projects that helped to better distribute traffic and move more cars at a higher rate of speed.

    A couple of other projects just completed also will make a major contribution.

    For residents of mid Pinellas looking for east-west alternatives to Ulmerton Road, the new extension of Bryan Dairy Road eastward is now open. It connects with 118th Avenue in Pinellas Park, which leads motorists to Interstate 275. The new route will be a big help for those who live on the west side of the peninsula south of Ulmerton -- in Seminole or the beaches, for example -- and want a faster route to St. Petersburg.

    Another new roadway also opened within the last few days. The long-awaited and seemingly interminably delayed extension of Hillsborough County's Linebaugh Avenue into Pinellas is now open. Whew!

    Officials talked about building the road for more than a decade. While they talked, northeast Pinellas County and northwest Hillsborough County boomed with new neighborhoods and shopping centers. More and more people lived in one county and worked in the other, and the few roads available to carry them back and forth were swamped with traffic.

    The construction of popular Citrus Park Town Center just over the Pinellas-Hillsborough line and the growth of Oldsmar's industrial areas only contributed more traffic volume, leading to a real crush and frayed nerves at rush hour in both counties.

    The new extension, which is being called the Forest Lakes Boulevard extension for the Pinellas road that now meets Linebaugh at the county line, promises to ease the jam, especially on Oldsmar's Douglas Road, which is packed during rush hour, and on narrow Race Track Road. The extension provides a new and much quicker alternative to using Tampa Road and Race Track Road and also bypasses the horse racing track that causes even more congestion during the racing season.

    Now the challenge for motorists may be to contain their pleasure and lay off the gas. Speeding on the new routes will only provoke calls for traffic lights and stop signs, which would defeat the purpose of building new roads to move traffic more smoothly and quickly.

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