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    County to detail plan for Belcher extension

    Extending Belcher Road is expected to help relieve traffic on U.S. 19 and Alt. U.S. 19.

    By CHRISTINE GRAEF

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- What is now a 2-mile-long ribbon of woods east of the Westin Innisbrook Resort one day will become a new extension of Belcher Road, and Pinellas County officials will introduce this project to its future neighbors today. A public information meeting will be from 4 to 7 p.m. today in the cafeteria of Sutherland Elementary School, 3150 Belcher Road N, to discuss plans to extend Belcher from Alderman Road to Klosterman Road.

    Project manager Jim Pleso said the new stretch of road will be the third and final phase of the county's master plan to make Belcher Road a major north-south corridor between St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor.

    Once complete, the road "is expected to alleviate traffic from U.S. 19 and Alternate 19," said Ivan Fernandez, senior engineer with Pinellas County Public Works Engineering Department. "There are only two other main roads that run north and south in the county -- U.S. 19 and Alternate 19."

    Plans for the road began in the late 1960s when developers began targeting the area and were required to provide a right of way for the county road.

    Construction began in 1998 on the first phase of the project, a 1.5-mile stretch between Curlew Road and Tampa Road, which was completed last year at a cost of $4.7-million.

    Construction of phase two, which extended the road 1.7 miles between Tampa Road and Alderman Road, is scheduled to begin in January. It also has a cost of $4.7-million and is expected to be complete in 15 months.

    Planners hope that the last leg of Belcher Road will reduce traffic on U.S. 19 and Alt. U.S. 19, just as the first extension has done.

    Since the leg between Curlew and Tampa roads opened, traffic on the three main roads that run parallel to Belcher -- U.S. 19, County Road 1 and Alt. U.S. 19 -- has dropped more noticeably than anywhere else in the county, county officials said last summer. Traffic counts, which are conducted every year by the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, show that in 1999 an average of 20,258 vehicles per day traveled the new stretch of Belcher.

    Meanwhile, traffic on CR 1 between Curlew Road and Tampa Road decreased by more than 4,000 vehicles per day between 1999 and 1998, and traffic on the same leg of Alt. U.S. 19 dropped nearly 2,000 cars and trucks a day.

    Pleso said costs for phase three are estimated at $6-million but will be more definite as detailed plans are completed.

    Notices of the meeting were sent to about 647 residents who will be affected by the construction, Pleso said.

    "We're just in the preliminary phase of planning," Fernandez said. "We want to get input from everyone involved before deciding on the best alternative for construction."

    Fernandez said a second public hearing will be scheduled. For information, call Pleso at (727) 464-3622.

    - Staff writer Christine Graef can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or graef@sptimes.com.

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