Monotube is talk of town
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2001
LARGO -- Some call it the "big, green monster."
If you drive on West Bay Drive, you can't miss it. A large metal tube, about 21 feet above the road, 230 feet long and 26 inches in diameter, it was erected last month to hold directional signs for motorists.
The 30-ton structure is actually called a monotube.
This monotube has become one of the most talked-about aspects of the road-widening and beautification project on West Bay Drive between Missouri Avenue and Clearwater-Largo Road. City officials had hoped the project would be completed today, but on Wednesday they said it should be finished by May 16.
Both sides of the road are near completion, except for the finishing touch of a coat of asphalt. The medians are still under construction.
Although she thinks the monotube is an "eyesore," City Commissioner Mary Laurance, like many, is content with the work on the road.
"Just to see the progress and the potential, I am so pleased," she said.
The $4.2-million project, which includes decorative street lamps and benches, is being promoted by community leaders as a major catalyst to downtown economic redevelopment.
Some, however, say the monotube is a drawback to such efforts.
"It's bizarre," said Largo resident Tom Atwell. "It detracts from whatever they're trying to do over there."
People like Atwell may not believe it, but city officials wanted something aesthetically pleasing to hold the signs, something different from the traditional metal frame.
City staff members discussed alternatives with state Department of Transportation engineers, who have the last say on what is done on the road, since this stretch of West Bay Drive is a state road.
They agreed upon the monotube.
"It was kind of us wanting something cleaner and neater and them wanting something that meets state standards," said Chris Kubala, the city's public works director.
The monotube has an important advantage, engineers say. Because it is almost 3 feet in diameter, it can withstand strong winds that a metal frame cannot. And besides, it doesn't look that bad, Kubala says.
"To me, they look cleaner and neater than all of this steel in the air," he said. "I guess it's a matter of taste."
A similar structure was recently built in Pinellas Park, sparking a similar controversy.
City officials initially said the West Bay project would be completed by late February. Some companies hired to work on the road said February was too optimistic because of planned curb cuts for businesses and other details. State DOT officials insisted it could be done by February.
"I think we would have liked to see it done in nine months," said Mike Staffopoulos, the city's engineer. "But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The work has largely progressed on schedule. But there have been some problems along the way.
The city wanted to do something nice at the intersection of West Bay Drive and 4th Street. A plan to install decorative bricks at the intersection was devised. But sand was used as a base for the bricks, rather than cement, and some of the bricks began to sink, said City Manager Steven Stanton.
Last month, city officials decided to remove the bricks and cover that portion of the road in asphalt.
"It was a good idea gone bad," the city manager lamented.
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