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Task force hears ideas for U.S. 19

Motorists and pedestrians get creative while offering the panel proposals for improving the safety of the road.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


CLEARWATER -- It was like a support group for those who had been wronged by U.S. 19.

All the aggrieved parties were there: The sideswiped; the cut off; the rear-ended.

Each of the more than 70 people who attended the gripe session at Countryside High School Wednesday night offered a horror story about a near-miss or a terrible accident along the county's main north-south corridor.

They suggested solutions they had seen in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Connecticut and even Europe.

Some brought photos of objectionable sightings on U.S. 19. Others created poster-size drawings of how the road should look. One couple built a model of a U.S. 19 intersection using matchbox cars to illustrate the hellacious traffic.

"It's amazing how creative people are and how much thought they put into it," said County Commissioner Karen Seel, who hosted the forum along with fellow members of the U.S. 19 Task Force.

The three-hour event allowed drivers and pedestrians to sound off about the road and examine the task force's list of recommendations to fix it.

Most agreed that it would be useful to increase enforcement, redesign median openings to prevent cut-through traffic, and force businesses to post large address numbers on signs near the highway.

Dunedin resident Don Goodall bought a 6-inch address decal at a hardware store for $1.27. He brought the large number 3 to the meeting to illustrate how easy and inexpensive it would be to post larger addresses along U.S. 19.

"I constantly wonder why a businessman spends thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands, or millions to open a business on 19 and doesn't spend a few dollars on addresses so I can find his business and use his services," Goodall said.

The task force, made of residents, business owners, traffic engineers, law enforcement and city and county officials, also recommended the speed limit along U.S. 19 be a uniform 55 mph. Some residents suggested that be lowered to 45 mph.

"If you put 55, they'll go 75," said James Baty Jr., a Palm Harbor resident who drives the road every day. "They go around me like I'm parked."

Residents of north Palm Harbor said they couldn't understand why the task force did not recommend a traffic signal for the dangerous stretch between Alderman and Klosterman roads.

"If our area is not dangerous enough for a traffic light, then why is it called Death Valley?" asked Alison Shepard, referring to the area's nickname. "We really need a signal there. It's just nuts. There's accidents every day."

Clearwater resident Johnny Long said the task force's recommendations were fine -- for cars. What about pedestrians and people who use wheelchairs?

"I don't mind a car hitting a car. Normally we can fix that," said Long, who uses a wheelchair. "But when a car or bus runs over a person, we can't fix that. People die."

He asked the county to install special crosswalks that would remind traffic to stop for pedestrians and would control traffic lights so people have enough time to cross the road.

The task force will meet once more before forwarding its recommendations to the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization for approval June 14.

Baty summed up the crowd's feelings about the highway.

"I hope that before I die, I'll be able to drive that highway and not be afraid to get in my car," the 77-year-old said. "It's ridiculous."

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