Reason should rule Keene Road decision
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001
Residents of Clearwater's Skycrest neighborhood, who understandably dread the day that an extension of Keene Road will bisect their neighborhood, think they have won an ally in their long fight to alter the road project.
The Clearwater City Commission intends to ask the county to reduce the width of the extension from six lanes to four between Druid Road and Drew Street.
An 11th-hour lobbying effort by the City Commission could further delay a project that has been more than two decades in the making. That's how long county officials have talked about widening and extending the road from St. Petersburg to Palm Harbor.
The goal was to create another much-needed north-south corridor for motorists bogged down in traffic on nearby Belcher Road as well as Alt. U.S. 19. The county expected to invest as much time and effort in the project as it did in creating another north-south alternative, the 49th Street/Bayside Bridge/McMullen-Booth Road corridor, with as positive an outcome for motorists.
The extension of Keene from the point where it now dead-ends at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard north to Dunedin was projected to be finished by now. But normal delays combined with the Skycrest neighborhood's efforts to modify the plans mean the road work on that section has not begun.
To their credit, Skycrest residents won from the county concessions that will improve landscaping and crosswalk design on the extension, as well as reduce opportunities for motorists to use quiet neighborhood streets as cut-throughs. Those were good alterations to the road's design.
But the residents were getting nowhere on persuading the county to reduce the six-lane segment to four. They argued that the six lanes would do too much damage to their neighborhood and be difficult for walkers to cross, but the county responded that six lanes were essential to handle traffic in the area.
Residents turned to Clearwater city commissioners, who are expected to pass a resolution at their Thursday meeting that would ask the county to reduce the width to no more than four lanes.
Some city officials have even contended, unbelievably, that they didn't know the county planned to put in six lanes. Anyone in City Hall or Skycrest who claims to be surprised by the Keene Road project just hasn't been paying attention. Not only has the plan to create the Keene Road corridor been discussed for more than 20 years, but four years ago, when the county met with Skycrest residents to go over details that would affect them, the six-lane segment was on the maps and discussed.
It makes no sense to widen a road, but not quite enough. Road improvements ultimately must be designed according to traffic engineering principles, not sentiment, or the outcome can be disastrous.
For example, owners of businesses along U.S. 19 have resisted the suggestion that the road would be safer if the number of driveway cuts and median openings was reduced. They want their customers to continue to have easy access. Today hundreds of thousands of motorists drive a highway that is not as safe as it could be.
There are plenty of other examples in traffic-choked Pinellas County. Costs combined with local opposition persuaded the county to hold off on widening four-lane Belcher Road between Druid Road and Drew Street in the mid 1990s. Today, thousands of motorists suffer the result, sitting in bogged-down traffic at rush hour and enduring slowdowns caused by frequent accidents along the stretch.
If Keene Road needs to be six lanes between Druid Road and Drew Street to handle current and projected traffic, the county should have the traffic studies to prove it to Clearwater commissioners and Skycrest residents. If it doesn't, the road should be narrowed. But if it does, Clearwater officials would be irresponsible to lobby for construction of an inadequate road.
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