DOT to reconsider Drew Street plans
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
CLEARWATER -- State road engineers had planned to open bids Wednesday and begin to choose a contractor to widen Drew Street's commercial strip between NE Coachman Road and Saturn Avenue.
But something different happened: A group representing about 70 Clearwater business owners and a church on that portion of Drew convinced state officials to put the $15-million widening project on hold and reconsider its design.
The small-business owners' main objection is that the state Department of Transportation is planning to plop a solid concrete median on either side of the intersection of Drew Street and Coachman Road, reducing access to businesses along several blocks there.
After hearing their appeal, DOT officials decided to rethink the road improvements, which have been in the works since the early 1990s.
Sue Johnston, who owns the Clearwater Schwinn bike shop and acted as a spokeswoman for the small businesses, was thrilled.
"I am ecstatic that they didn't throw me out the door," Johnston said. "I know they had the power to say that it's just way too late . . . But I was hoping that it wouldn't be too late until the axe hits the pavement."
John Temple, DOT district director of operations, said he was concerned about the late timing of the appeal on the project's design -- literally on the day bids were to be opened.
Johnston apologized, but said she found it difficult to figure out how to complain.
"Everywhere we went, everyone told us it was a done deal," said Johnston, who first saw the final design of the proposed roadway last fall. "We went to the county, they said talk to the state. We went to the state, they said talk to the city. Nobody wanted to take responsibility."
The businesses don't object to the west half of the Drew Street project, where a center turn lane is being added to the four-lane road.
But on the east half, two left-turn lanes are being installed -- along with the solid median -- to allow cars to turn onto NE Coachman Road. DOT officials tried to explain to the business owners that elaborate traffic models had shown the design was needed.
"If the traffic volumes are there," Temple said, "we have to accommodate them."
The business owners argued that the result of installing the median would be chaos. They predicted drivers would attempt to make unsafe U-turns and businesses would lose customers.
The business owners were flanked by Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel and an official from the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Ultimately, state officials agreed to review whether two turning lanes are needed for traffic heading east on Coachman from Drew, whether a traffic signal is needed at that intersection, and if the amount of projected traffic on Drew and Coachman has been calculated correctly.
If the design of the road can be changed, then access could be improved to Clearwater Schwinn and nearby businesses.
DOT engineers also agreed to shorten the median on the east end of the project, which would allow cars heading north on Mercury Avenue to make left turns onto Drew Street from the Skycrest United Methodist Church.
State officials weren't sure how long the review of the street project would take, or how long construction would last when it finally gets started.
They are also facing a protest from a contractor who has complained that the 225-day time period, in which the state wants to get the Drew Street project completed, is too short. That matter also has to be resolved before the Drew project can move ahead.
The Drew Street project already has been changed once: The plan to widen the road in the residential area between Highland Avenue and Saturn was nixed two years ago after area residents opposed it.
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