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    Seven road projects slide down schedule

    Engineers recommend delays so the county can deal with overextended Penny for Pinellas funds.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 7, 2001


    When Paul and Carol Lurz moved to a GlenEagles condo in 1982, it didn't bother them that the entrance to the development was on U.S. 19.

    Times change. So does traffic.

    "We're fortunate that we're retired, so we can time our adventures on U.S. 19," Paul Lurz said. "We don't go out during rush hour."

    But the Palm Harbor couple thought relief was on the way. The county plans to extend Belcher Road north to Klosterman Road. It would go right by GlenEagles, bringing more noise but also another entry. And the project was set to start next year.

    Not anymore.

    The Belcher project is one of seven road projects that county engineers have targeted to delay because the county overbudgeted its income from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. These projects are more fortunate than some. Several would be knocked off the county's list of projects to fund during the next 10 years. These are still on the list, but would be pushed back two to six years.

    "This is a balancing of the cash flow of Penny revenue over the next 10 years," said Ivan Fernandez, senior engineer.

    Commissioner Susan Latvala said the delays are frustrating but necessary.

    "If the sky opens and some money falls, they'll get moved up," she said. "The list is always going to be longer than the amount of money we have."

    The seven projects total $59.6-million, and all except the Belcher extension involve improving existing roads. They all were scheduled to start between next year and the county's 2005-2006 fiscal year. Instead, the county's new plan calls for them to start from 2005-2006 to 2009-2010.

    The county's public works department prioritized these projects, just as it did the roads that it knocked off the list completely. The rankings were based on such factors as road safety and traffic congestion.

    The list has been submitted to commissioners as part of the county's long-term building plan. The county will hold a public hearing on that plan next month, and then commissioners will vote on the budget in August.

    Keith Wicks, public works director, said he knows many people want the projects to move faster.

    "We're trying to deal with the highest priority first, and deal with them in a financially responsible way, which is pay as you go," he said.

    On the plus side, Wicks said, the projects still would be paid for by the Penny funds, which run out in 2010. And once these projects are done, he said, "we will have taken care of the major surface transportation needs for the county."

    But even a few years' change means changing plans for those near the roads. At GlenEagles, a committee of residents had formed to decide whether to build a wall separating the development from the new Belcher Road. Then Terri Whetzel, manager for most of the subdivisions in the development, called the county a few weeks ago.

    Many residents, like the Lurzes, want the road extended to relieve traffic problems. But some don't want the noise and development of the new road, Whetzel said.

    "It's sort of bittersweet," she said. "People were just starting to get acclimated to the fact that this was going to happen."

    Lurz said the county needs to think about the new construction on U.S. 19 near GlenEagles. That development is only going to increase traffic on U.S. 19, and increase the need for an alternative, he said.

    "Maybe there's some other area (that could wait), seeing that this has been in the plan," he said. "It's a safety hazard."

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