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15 roundabout meetings later, consensus is zero

The cost, timing and scale of improvements have divided the Roundabout Advisory Committee for months.

By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001


CLEARWATER -- What do you get when you put eight residents in a room with diagrams of the Clearwater Beach roundabout and an expert's report on how to improve the oval roadway, and have them meet sporadically for five months?

Apparently, a lot of disagreement.

Despite 15 meetings since September, the city's Roundabout Advisory Committee hasn't agreed on what should be done to improve the oval roadway.

A vote and a final report won't be completed until after the March city elections, according to commentary at the meeting Monday.

And any changes the group might recommend won't be put into practice until after spring break tourism season ends in April.

Some roundabout committee members advocate the kind of major changes to the geometry of the oval proposed by British roundabout expert Barry Crown last summer.

Crown suggested making it easier for drivers in both lanes of traffic to simultaneously exit to south Clearwater Beach, turning from the roundabout onto Coronado Drive, with less chance of getting into an accident.

"Construction should begin immediately after Spring Break," member Carl Wagenfohr wrote in a memo passed out to the committee Monday.

But other members of the group, including City Commissioner Ed Hart, who acts as the committee's non-voting facilitator, have expressed concerns that spending at least $1.25-million in city funds to implement Crown's recommendations would be a waste.

Hart, who lives on north Clearwater Beach, said Crown's proposal would make it more difficult for drivers from the north beach to turn into the roundabout from Mandalay Avenue and cause other problems with traffic flow.

Hart had urged the commission to create the Roundabout Advisory Committee in the fall to review changes to the oval before they were made.

"There is a feeling that if you slow people down and educate people better, you can alleviate some of the problems," without making drastic changes to the roundabout, Hart said.

As of Jan. 15, the roundabout had averaged just under an accident a day since police began keeping track on Dec. 15, 1999.

The committee is working with the Pinellas County school system to train driver's education teachers in how to prepare students for the roundabout. They also want to work with the city's staff to produce a new instructional brochure and video for residents.

City staff members said their previous educational materials on the roundabout were inaccurate.

Hart said Monday that nothing would be left hanging when the group is done, and the city can expect a complete report.

Some committee members have said they should not be blamed for the delay in coming to a decision. They noted at a December meeting that they did not get some information, such as detailed cost estimates for proposed changes, until November.

If the committee is divided after spring break, Mayor Brian Aungst said Monday that he would want to implement the roundabout overhaul recommended by Crown. The other three commission votes on the roundabout's future will be decided when residents choose three new commissioners in March city elections.

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