U.S. 19 detour isn't the only way to get around

Published May 24, 2007

The tens of thousands of commuters who use McMullen-Booth Road every day are extraordinarily unhappy that a portion of the road will close after tomorrow's rush hour and remain closed for up to three weeks.

Both northbound and southbound lanes will close at the point where they cross the CSX railroad tracks between Drew Street and State Road 590. Motorists will be able to drive right up to businesses on either side of the tracks, but they will not be able to cross the tracks because the track bed is being repaired and the tracks replaced.

An official detour will direct traffic over to U.S. 19, but motorists have moaned about that choice of detour route, noting correctly that U.S. 19 is under construction in that area. Driving it already is a challenge without the addition of thousands more commuters each day.

We agree, the closing of McMullen-Booth is bad news, but motorists will survive this period of inconvenience. CSX railroad crossings have been repaired throughout North Pinellas (up next: Ulmerton Road), and it seems roads always must be closed entirely for these repairs. Businesses and motorists always predict doom, but soon the job is over and things return to normal.

Some of the past repairs have been completed more quickly than originally forecast. With luck, that will be the case with the McMullen-Booth repair.

Here's a piece of advice: Don't use the official U.S. 19 detour. Use this three-week window to explore other ways to travel north and get a different view of the county.

Some McMullen-Booth commuters may be unaware that Belcher Road has been extended so far north now that it is a viable alternative to U.S. 19 almost to Tarpon Springs. The road is wide and smooth, with some nice hills and wide curves to make the drive interesting.

Or, by driving a little farther west, you can get on widened, improved Keene Road at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard in Clearwater and travel north to State Road 580 or Curlew Road before cutting back east to continue your northward commute.

If a more eastern alternative to McMullen-Booth is your preference, Bayshore Boulevard through Safety Harbor is about the only option. It is a scenic drive, but a narrow, twisting road that can get clogged at rush hour. You might want to leave earlier or later if that is your choice, and pack a passel of patience for the trip.

With traffic congestion a chronic issue in North Pinellas, any road closure has the capacity to drive motorists up a tree. That will certainly be the case with the McMullen-Booth rail repair, which already has been delayed since 2002 because of the outcry and now can wait no longer.

Better to endure a few weeks of inconvenience now than to one day lose control of your car while bumping across the tracks.