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I-275's new name steals an honor, veterans say

"We're mounting a campaign to raise hell," says an ex-Marine after a stretch that honored veterans attracts a mouthful of names in a political compromise.

Published March 7, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Renaming Interstate 275 through Pinellas County last week rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

Unknown to many people - the governor, the Legislature, the Florida Department of Transportation, St. Petersburg City Council - the stretch of highway already had a name.

Thirty-seven years ago, the Legislature and Gov. Claude Kirk designated the interstate through Pinellas the American Legion Memorial Highway.

But few knew it.

"I had to look it up," said FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson. "It's true."

"This is the first I've ever heard of it," said St. Petersburg City Council member John Bryan. "It's true, huh? I didn't know."

Last week, the highway was designated the St. Petersburg Parkway/William C. Cramer Memorial Highway. A sign was erected, a ceremony was held. But nowhere does it say anything about the American Legion, and area veterans are not taking the slight lying down.

The new name is a compromise that emerged from a political fight over what to call the stretch of roadway. The St. Petersburg City Council favored the St. Petersburg Parkway. The Legislature wanted to honor William C. Cramer, a former congressman who is credited with building the Florida Republican Party.

But members of the American Legion fear the name honoring their group has been ignored, or dropped completely.

"None of us was contacted about any hearings on this plan. There was no dialogue," said Richard Hall, finance director of American Legion Post 14 in St. Petersburg and a former Marine. "The interstate was designated the American Legion Memorial Highway, and that's just been forgotten."

The legion does not plan to let it go. "We're mounting a campaign to raise hell about this," Hall said.

Post Commander Ray Maya, another former Marine, said he and his associates want the recognition they deserve.

"We're trying to create a little stir about this," Maya said. "We're all good people who served our country, and we deserve to be recognized."

In the 1960s, as interstate construction progressed through Pinellas, the highway was supposed to be designated I-75. It was later redesignated I-275, but whatever the road was called at the time, the state gave it the American Legion honor.

When the road was finished, however, no signs were put up with its given name.

"It's still on the books," Carson said.

So the 21-mile stretch of road now has three names?

"Right," Carson said.

In order of honor bestowed, it is The American Legion Memorial Highway/St. Petersburg Parkway/William C. Cramer Memorial Highway.

And it connects on the south to the Bob Graham Sunshine Parkway Bridge.

It isn't unusual for a Florida highway to have multiple names, and if anyone had recalled the American Legion name, it wouldn't have prevented giving the road additional names.

In Pinellas, U.S. 19 is called Blue Star Memorial Highway and Eisenhower Boulevard.

In Pasco County, SR 54 is called Darce Taylor Crist Highway, Purple Heart Highway and State Trooper James Crooks Highway.

In Hillsborough County, U.S. 41 is Blue Star Memorial Highway, William Howard Taft Memorial Highway and Lawton Chiles Trail.

[Last modified March 7, 2006, 01:13:07]

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