By DEBORAH O'NEIL
© St. Petersburg Times,
CLEARWATER -- The message from Pinellas County residents at the first public hearing on fixing U.S. 19 was this: Start with the small stuff.
The $100-million overpasses will be great, when the state builds them.
For now, though, residents said they want to see easy-to-read street addresses on U.S. 19 businesses, better law enforcement of speed limits and synchronized traffic lights.
About 30 of the 85 people who attended the hearing at Countryside High School shared their ideas on improving U.S. 19 with a 12-person panel of transportation officials.
"So many of these things are so practical and so easy to make happen," said County Commissioner Karen Seel, who is heading a task force formulating recommendations to improve U.S. 19 traffic and safety.
Bob Clayton of Largo approached the microphone carrying a copy of telephone yellow pages. He suggested the county publish maps of U.S. 19 addresses so people could figure out where businesses are located before they get on the highway.
As he flipped through the pages at the beginning of his phone book, he said, "I can find my seat at Tropicana, I can find a seat at Ruth Eckerd Hall, I can find a seat at the ice arena . . . but I can't find a map of U.S. 19.
"In Soviet Russia, they wouldn't publish maps because they were afraid of invasions," Clayton said. "I'm assuming you have not published a map because you're afraid of an invasion of the 2-million tourists in Pinellas County who can't find an address on U.S. 19."
Numerous people complained about buses that stop on U.S. 19, backing up traffic. There were repeated requests to get rid of median cuts that allow drivers to make left turns.
Others proposed banning drivers from using cellular phones while on the road. Tarpon Springs resident Joel Zuckerman suggested Pinellas County do as some European countries have done and fine people for making obscene gestures in traffic.