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Oldsmar

Traffic-dodging movie fans still waiting

For many, a traffic signal promised near a popular Oldsmar movie theater can't come soon enough.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published September 19, 2003

OLDSMAR - Getting to Oldsmar's megaplex movie theater can be hairier than the high-flying stunts on the big screen.

That's because the Woodlands Square Shopping Center, home to the AMC Woodlands 20 along with a Beall's and other merchants, is sandwiched between two six-lane roads. Despite heavy traffic, no entrance to the complex has a traffic light.

"It's not only aggravating, it's dangerous," said Joan Soulard, 60, a Palm Harbor transplant from Boston. "You take your own life into your hands every time you turn."

The city and the property's developer, Florida Commercial Communities, are working to solve the traffic problems at the shopping center, they say. A traffic signal should be installed at the complex's main entrance on Curlew Road near the end of this year.

On Tampa Road, the two are comparing notes and seeking a solution.

But on both sides of the plaza, shoppers and nearby residents are growing impatient.

"We've been hoping for a light since 2000," said Dick Bird, 66, a resident director at Gull Aire Village, a community with many elderly residents across Curlew Road. "Every so often, they put some stakes up and put some paint down, then they disappear. We talk to the mayor, we talk to (the Florida Department of Transportation) . . . They say it's coming, but we're still waiting.

"Maybe they think we're so old that we'll forget."

They won't.

Gull Aire residents have been fighting the state for years concerning the need for a traffic light at the entrance of their 530-home neighborhood, directly across from the busy Curlew entrance to the shopping center.

In April 2002, a 42-year-old mother of four with multiple sclerosis was killed while crossing Curlew Road. She had been shopping and was struck while crossing the road's six lanes in a motorized scooter.

That July, the state told residents they would add a traffic light.

The shopping center's engineer says the light will be in place this December. Frank Buonemani, project manager with Mesimer and Associates, said Woodlands Square Shopping Center needs to widen the Curlew entrance to the property first.

Currently, there is only one lane to enter and exit from that side. The developers are paying to widen the drive, while the DOT is footing the $185,000 bill for the traffic light.

DOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said construction of the signal would begin in early November.

The situation on Tampa Road may be even worse.

There, cars jockey for position and parking spaces around the 20-screen theater and an AmSouth Bank. On Friday nights and all day Saturday, queues entering and leaving the lot are 10 cars deep, some say.

Left turns onto Tampa Road are the worst, said East Lake resident Patricia Frankenfield.

Frankenfield, 50, was in a serious accident last summer after trying to leave the parking lot to Tampa Road. She had to be flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa after an eastbound vehicle struck the driver's side of her SUV.

She doesn't recall what happened and still feels pain in her neck.

"It was a Friday night, big movie crowd," she said. "They say there was a car coming. I can't remember. It's terrible."

Since then, she's avoided the turn, taking roundabout routes instead. The time lost is worth it, she said.

Nearly 40,000 cars travel that stretch of Tampa Road each day, said Gina Harvey, a crash data supervisor with the Pinellas County Planning Department. In 2002, there were 18 accidents in that area. So far this year, there have been eight.

The city submitted a proposal to developers to use an existing traffic light just west of the plaza entrance to funnel some traffic out of the parking lot. City engineers think building a road north of the theater to connect the parking lot with East Lake Woodlands Parkway is the easiest way to alleviate traffic concerns.

Harvey said the county added the light at East Lake Woodlands Parkway, which is the entrance to an apartment complex, with the idea that it would be connected to the shopping center.

But Woodlands Square's owners have their own ideas. They want to add a new light at the entrance to the movie theater or a hundred yards south at the entrance to a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, which is also in the plaza.

- Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 771-4303 or asharockman@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 18, 2003, 10:36:32]

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