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Overpasses proposed to calm Gandy

St. Petersburg leaders tell county planners that traffic snarls at Fourth Street N and at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N are bad and getting worse.

Published September 19, 2006

The traffic mess on Gandy Boulevard - a main commuter route from mid Pinellas to Tampa and St. Petersburg - needs a fix right now, not in 20 or 25 years, two local officials said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and City Council member John Bryan told the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization last week that overpasses are needed on Gandy at Fourth Street and at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Their goal is to ease congestion on Gandy sections that carry a traffic volume approaching 50,000 cars and trucks a day. Partly because of the volume, the service level on the hurricane evacuation route between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and San Martin Boulevard, near Derby Lane, is rated "F," the lowest possible designation.

"This has been a significant problem for a long time," Baker said, adding that the current plan for Gandy is so long-range, "I wonder if my grandkids will ever see it."

Bryan proposed the two overpasses as an interim solution that would improve traffic flow until the Florida Department of Transportation undertakes a major improvement project, likely years down the road.

Bryan also pointed to the overpass at Gandy/Park Boulevard and U.S. 19.

"No doubt that intersection is going to need work, but it carried us for 40 years," Bryan said.

He said right of way in the form of wide medians already exists at the intersections and is enough to accommodate the flyovers, which he thinks could be started in a year or so.

Costs are uncertain, but Bryan cited figures in the $50-million to $60-million range.

Of that, St. Petersburg already has $10-million available in federal funds and impact fees to put toward the overpass projects.

DOT official Don Skelton said the projects aren't "something that's going to be happening tomorrow." But he said the agency would look at ways to improve a "minimum segment." The MPO asked the transportation officials to report back in a few months.

"This is so important to the city ... and what goes on in the north end of our city," Bryan said.

Development, both new and projected, has steadily added to Gandy traffic counts.

In 1995, an MPO study showed 22,594 vehicles counted daily on Gandy between Interstate 275 and Fourth Street. The 2005 report counted 45,000.

East of Fourth Street, the 1995 study counted 36,365 vehicles daily, compared with 48,500 in 2005. The counts for both years were taken at about the same spot, a few blocks east of Fourth.

[Last modified September 18, 2006, 23:06:07]

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