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Haines Road project stirs fears, opposition

Possibly having to give up using county right of way for parking and storage upsets some business owners.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published February 29, 2004

LEALMAN - Anger was the instant reaction from many of the folks who got their first glimpse last week of a county plan to widen Haines Road by including bike paths and sidewalks.

"I think there's a lot of flaws in it," said Guy Keirn, who owns property along Haines. "This project's going to hurt a lot of businesses."

Keirn was not alone. Murmurs of discontent and suspicion could be heard during Tuesday's public meeting at Sexton Elementary School.

About 120 neighbors passed through the school's media center to see the first details on the proposed $2.7-million project to overhaul a 1.5-mile stretch of Haines from the interstate to U.S. 19 N. Intersections at 54th Avenue N, 28th Street and 62nd Avenue N would also be improved.

Most of the attendees were business owners, fearing their livelihoods would be destroyed if the county begins using more of its right of way. Many of those businesses use the right of way for customer parking or merchandise display.

Others were upset that existing problems with flooding might be exacerbated by the proposed changes.

"I was very dissatisfied with it, truthfully," Keirn said. "They don't care about the business people .... It seems they're cutting us off." County officials, he said, seemed to be "talking out of both sides of their mouth."

Keirn said he asked one employee about flooding problems along Haines. The official told him he was unaware of any difficulties. Elsewhere, another county representative could be heard telling someone that the project, which was touted as "road improvements," was really a drainage project.

Yet another county employee told a man that the project would "take no more property."

However, the schedule handed out to attendees included a deadline for "right-of-way/land acquisition." Also, a diagram displaying a cross section of Haines clearly showed the county intends to claim a lot more of its right of way.

Despite signs and advertisements calling it a road improvement proposal, Jim Collins, a division engineer with Pinellas County's public works department, said it really is a drainage project.

There are no plans to increase the road's capacity for more traffic, Collins said. Instead, gutters and curbs will be added to improve drainage. The gutters could help in sweeping water away from adjoining properties, he said.

Collins said it was too early in the process to know where the floodwater would be routed.

As for right of way issues, the county is aware of those, Collins said. Officials are trying to stay within the existing right of way and not buy any more land, he said.

A notation on the project's timetable that talks about land acquisition is "misleading," he said, and refers to permission needed to tie driveways into the roadway.

But Collins conceded the county will begin using substantially more of its right of way. Currently, the county has a 60-foot right of way, which means 30 feet on each side of the centerline.

With 12-foot-wide lanes, about 18 feet of right of way is available along most of Haines.

When improvements are completed, he said, the driving lanes will be narrowed to 11 feet with another 4 feet taken up by bike lanes, 2 feet taken up with gutters and curbs, and 5 feet taken up by a sidewalk. That will leave about 8 feet of unused right of way on each side of the road, or 10 feet less than there is now.

Within that, he said, there will be some wiggle room to juggle the position of sidewalks to help leave more right of way for businesses.

"We're going to try to work with them to preserve their businesses as much as possible," Collins said.

Keirn said he'd like to see planners eliminate one bike lane and one sidewalk. There's no need for them on both sides, he said, and taking them out of the plan would be the biggest help for businesses.

Changes to the road

Pinellas County plans to improve Haines Road by reducing the width of the lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet, adding 4-foot bike lanes, curbs, gutters and 5-foot sidewalks on each side of the roadway. They also plan to improve the intersections at 54th Avenue N, 28th Street N and 62nd Avenue N to increase safety and alleviate rush-hour congestion. The project schedule follows:

Milestone Estimated completion date

Preliminary engineering report - July 2004

Design completed - August 2005

Right of way/land acquisition - October 2005

Begin construction - December 2006

End construction -December 2007

- Source: Pinellas County Public Works Department

[Last modified February 29, 2004, 01:15:11]

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