Tampa Bay columnists
Mary Jo Melone
World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
Blind Pass stoplight proposal stirs talk
By AMY WIMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 6, 2000
ST. PETE BEACH -- The city made one request when the state Department of Transportation began completing plans to widen Blind Pass Road.
Please, the city pleaded, add a stoplight at 84th Avenue and Blind Pass Road -- a corner that has two churches and two schools in its vicinity.
For months, DOT turned down the request, then relented on one condition. If a stoplight is added, the city must agree to cut off access to the major thoroughfare from most residential streets in the northern part of the city. Those streets would become cul-de-sacs.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the choice Sept. 19, and a public hearing will be held on the issue Aug. 15 at City Hall. But between now and then, residents of the neighborhood are waging a mostly friendly war over the issue, fighting for the ears of commissioners who will make the decision.
"It'll be interesting," said John Phillips, the District 1 commissioner who represents the section of St. Pete Beach most affected by the road widening. "My mind is open as their commissioner."
The issue is dividing the neighborhood, though commissioners say they are watching closely to see which side wins more followers. On this question, the commission has stated, the majority opinion of the community should prevail.
The city even is sending a survey to residents in the district, asking which option they favor. "I'm going to be leaning pretty heavily on those" in making a decision, Commissioner Jim Myers said.
On one side of the issue are neighbors like Kirk and Lorrie Bellinger, who say the cul-de-sacs will give them a safer neighborhood in which to raise children. Other residents agreed, arguing that the cut-off streets will not only reduce traffic through their neighborhoods, but also will deter criminals.
On the other side are residents like Joseph Sulprizio, a St. Pete Beach retiree who says the street closures will inhibit emergency vehicle access and increase traffic on other streets that residents will be forced to use when they lose access to Blind Pass Road.
Blind Pass Road will be widened into a five-lane road with two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes and a center turn lane. Construction is expected to start in July 2001 and take about 18 months to complete.
The DOT thinks its plan to turn some residential streets into cul-de-sacs will make neighborhoods safer by cutting down on traffic that cuts through the community in lieu of using other, larger roads that are designed to carry such traffic.
City officials fought for a stoplight at Blind Pass Road and 84th Avenue, primarily because of the heavy traffic generated by St. John's Catholic Church, St. Alban's Episcopal Church, St. John's School and Gulf Beaches Elementary School. The light will be the only one added under the plan.
"(DOT) told us, basically, no, you can't have a light there," Phillips said. "We thought it would be a no-brainer."
After months of wrangling with DOT over the light, the agency agreed to allow it -- but only if the city shuts down 16 entrances to Blind Pass from residential streets.
"They're not mandating that we close our roads," Phillips said. "But they are mandating that we close our roads if we want that light."
Among the specifics of the DOT plan are:
Turn 15 roads along Blind Pass Road into cul-de-sacs, forcing those residents to use other streets, such as Gulf Boulevard and Boca Ciega Drive, to get out of their neighborhoods. A 16th road, 93rd Avenue, would be open to emergency vehicles only.
As for the issue of emergency access, St. Pete Beach officials say they generally can use other roads besides Blind Pass to reach the neighborhoods. The cul-de-sacs also will be constructed in a way that allows emergency vehicles to drive through them if necessary.
The only difficulty that might be caused for emergency vehicles is at 93rd Avenue, which, because it is on the city's north side, might be needed by the Treasure Island Fire Department if it responds to a call in St. Pete Beach. That street's access to Blind Pass Road will be open for emergency traffic only.
Two streets, 85th and 87th avenues, would be converted into one-way streets heading east under the DOT's plan. The purpose of this would be to ease access to Gulf Beaches Elementary without allowing the streets to become cut-throughs to Blind Pass Road.
Among those who favor the plan, the most common criticism is that it should close down more of the residential streets.
Some residents along 77th Avenue, for example, are urging city commissioners to shut down their street as well. Otherwise, they fear motorists traveling south will take advantage of the street, which could be the first in five blocks with access from Blind Pass Road.
Yet those on the other side of the fence are mobilizing, too. They say they don't want to live on a dead-end street and think emergency vehicles' access will be impeded.
Phillips and other commissioners say they are paying close attention on this issue to the feedback they get from neighbors.
"This is one where I'm trying to figure out how many are for this and how many are against it," Phillips said. "A lot of decisions don't directly affect people, but this is one that's right in their neighborhoods."
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.