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Largo's city manager wants an explanation and action. Blame it on a financial shortfall, says a county official.
By MONIQUE FIELDS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001
LARGO -- Largo City Manager Steven Stanton has a question:
Why isn't work on road improvements along Starkey Road between East Bay Drive and Bryan Dairy Road under way?
Answer: The project was caught in the same financial quagmire that has delayed other road projects when Pinellas County leaders realized that there wasn't enough money from the Penny for Pinellas fund for every project that had been scheduled. So, projects were prioritized. As a result, some were postponed, said Gay Lancaster, interim county administrator.
The Starkey Road project has been in the works at least since last year. At one point, construction was set to begin 2002-2003. Then it was pushed back to 2005-2006. Now work may not start until 2007-2008.
Stanton doesn't think the delays are warranted, and he wants them to end.
"It seems when we are supposed to do projects, they are rescheduled," Stanton said.
Lancaster said the project was treated fairly in the review process and should proceed as now scheduled.
"To the best of my knowledge, that project is proceeding as planned," she said. "There are no plans to delay it that I am aware of."
She said the County Commission will ultimately make any decision about road improvements.
The estimated $18.1-million project will widen Starkey Road from four lanes to six. The extension may ease travel along the road and update the rural road to an urban road with curbs and gutters. It would also provide sidewalks for residents who walk along that path.
Other improvements would make the road safer, such as deceleration lanes, allowing motorists to enter or leave the lanes more easily. There would be places for buses to safely load and unload passengers. And motorists would no longer have to make sharp turns from lanes of traffic or go from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds to weave into traffic.
But the rescheduling of the project throws other projects off track, Stanton said. City leaders are now fielding a request from 2,000 residents who live in the Island in the Sun Mobile Home Park for a new traffic signal. To do that, the city will have to redesign the intersection of Willow Avenue and Starkey Road -- and the city wants to await the improvements on Starkey before doing that.
"It's silly to redesign an intersection that's going to be ripped up," Stanton said.
He said the rescheduling pattern has frustrated Largo administrators for years. Stanton said the city experienced continuous delays on Ulmerton and Starkey roads while projects in north Pinellas went forward. He contends the projects in the northern portion of the county are less complicated because there is more clear land. He is also concerned that more affluent residents have had more influence on the approval process than other county residents.
Lancaster said that's not the case at all. For example, she pointed to two mid-county projects in the works on Bryan Dairy Road that benefit people who live in Largo.
"Until we all start thinking as one community, we will continue to have different perceptions of who's getting what, how much they are getting and when they are getting it," Lancaster said. "I'm hoping in the future we'll all take a larger view and think about the big picture for the whole community."