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    Busy junction may get signal

    Plans to widen County Road 1 reduce opposition to a Palm Harbor traffic light at Omaha Street and Nebraska.

    By ROBERT FARLEY
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 11, 2001


    PALM HARBOR -- Pinellas County officials again are proposing a traffic signal at a busy intersection they say is only going to get busier.

    In the past, the county's plan for a traffic signal at the intersection of Omaha Street/County Road 1 and Nebraska Avenue has met resistance from some residents who say the current four-way stop works just fine.

    But in light of the county's plan to widen County Road 1, some people who live and work near the intersection are less opposed to a stoplight. Transportation planners will find out how much less Wednesday, when the Metropolitan Planning Organization holds a public hearing to consider the county's request for a traffic signal at the intersection.

    In the past, several traffic accidents at the intersection claimed the white picket fence around the property of Rutger & Donaldson, a law firm on the northwest corner.

    A ficus tree at the corner of the property was decimated in another accident that totalled two cars. Once, a car ran into the rear of the Rutger & Donaldson building, taking out the staircase.

    "We have 911 on our speed dial," said attorney William Rutger. "I'm not exaggerating."

    Those were the days when the intersection was policed by two stop signs. The county later made the intersection a four-way stop, though it was deemed a temporary solution. Neighbors said that largely solved the accident problem.

    As a more permanent solution, the county first proposed adding a roundabout to plans to improve downtown Palm Harbor. The roundabout debacle in Clearwater Beach made that plan laughable.

    So the county proposed a traffic signal at the intersection. When that plan came before the county last year, it met with resistance from neighbors who questioned why the county would tamper with an intersection that appeared to be working smoothly.

    "Traffic warrants it, plain and simple," said county engineer Jim Collins.

    That will be especially true when the county widens County Road 1 to four lanes from Tampa Road to New York Avenue in 2003, Collins said. In addition to the four lanes of traffic, there also will be left-turn lanes. Stop signs won't work then, Collins said.

    "It would be tough to determine who got to the intersection first," Collins said.

    The traffic light wouldn't go in until the road is widened, Collins said.

    Although opposition to the traffic light last year resulted in putting the traffic light plan on hold, there is unlikely to be as much opposition Wednesday. Many residents and business owners who opposed a traffic light have been persuaded that a light will be necessary when County Road 1 is widened.

    A signal might even help clear some of the traffic that stacks up on CR 1 when Palm Harbor University High School, located north of the intersection, lets out for the day, Rutger said.

    A county study of the intersection concluded that although the intersection may be functioning well now, there will be much more traffic on the road when CR 1 is widened.

    "As much as I don't like to admit it, at that point (when the road is widened), they are right," said Don Hurt, the owner of Your Claim to Frame at Omaha Circle and Nebraska Avenue.

    Hurt said the four-way stop signs have worked well, though.

    "I was never fond of four-way stops," Hurt said as he looked out one of the store's bay windows that overlook the intersection. "But you can see how traffic continues to flow."

    "It seems ironic that once we get the perfect solution, it is now working its way out," Hurt said.

    There might still be some opposition to a traffic signal, Hurt said, but he added: "I believe the opposition isn't strong enough to get the county to change its opinion."

    Hurt's chief concern is the proposal for a concrete barrier that would extend down the middle of Nebraska Avenue west from the intersection. It would prevent left turns onto Omaha Circle and could cost him customers, he said.

    Others residents ask: Why change a good thing?

    "Really, I don't see any problem with a four-way stop," said Kenneth James, who has lived on Nebraska Avenue a block west of the intersection for 42 years.

    Prior to the four-way stop, there were often two accidents a day, he said.

    "It would be foolish to do anything when the four-way is working," he said.

    -- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

    If you go

    The Metropolitan Planning Organization's public hearing on the request to put a traffic signal at Nebraska Avenue and Omaha Street is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Board Assembly Room on the fifth floor of the County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

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