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    U.S. 19 lighting project on hold

    The company installing streetlights quits the job. Now the state is trying to find someone to finish it.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- With about two weeks of work left, a company hired by the state to install lights on a dark stretch of U.S. 19 has walked off thejob, leaving the already-delayed project in the lurch, according to state officials.

    The Florida Department of Transportation hired Mid-Continent Electric of Naples to install 199 street lights on a 5-mile stretch of U.S. 19 from Evans Road near Countryside Mall to Alderman Road in Palm Harbor. The $1.1-million project originally was scheduled to be completed in March.

    "Basically, Mid-Continent Electric abandoned the job," said Kris Carson, DOT spokeswoman. "They basically didn't have the resources to finish the job."

    The state is working with the surety company that insured the project to find another contractor to finish the job. The tall, metal light poles are already up and all that is left, Carson said, is the final electrical and wiring work. Until that is done, the lights cannot be turned on.

    "Once they start work again, it shouldn't take any time at all to finish," Carson said. "We are hoping we can get someone out there at the first of the year to get the job done."

    An attorney who represents the company declined to comment Monday.

    "There is a long story, but nothing that Mid-Continent wants to try in the press," said attorney Joe Lawrence of Fort Lauderdale. "I really cannot comment at this stage. It would not be wise."

    In July, Mid-Continent president Doug McIntyre said company crews working on the project were faced with a different soil density than DOT plans had listed, making it more difficult to install the foundations for the lights. The company also encountered other inaccurate information in the state plans, he said.

    In August, when the project was less than 60 percent complete, Mid-Continent filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code so it could reorganize its finances. The company was suspended from bidding on other DOT projects and was fined $1,216 a day beginning Aug. 31.

    But DOT did not kick Mid-Continent off the project because the company had told the state it would finish the job. Carson said the state will assess the surety company the daily fine until the project is completed.

    "We need to get the lights working as soon as possible," Carson said.

    Judy Pecoraro-Wright has been waiting for this project for years. She began pushing for street lights on the northern stretch of U.S. 19 in 1996 after her brother and his wife were killed trying to cross the road at night.

    "No, no," Pecoraro-Wright said Monday after hearing about the new delay. "Every time we turn around, it's being extended. If you want feedback, I'm in shock right now."

    State officials listed the project as a priority in 1996 because of the number of accidents and fatalities on the road. Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, who led a U.S. 19 task force, said installing lights on the road would make a big difference.

    "I'm hopeful that they will get this job done because it is so critical for that area of the roadway," Seel said. "That's where a lot of the deaths have been happening."

    The first phase of the project, completed more than a year ago by a different company, installed lights on U.S. 19 from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Tarpon Springs to Alderman Road.

    Mid-Continent began the second leg of the project on Aug. 4, 1999, missed the original March deadline and walked off the project in November after getting a few extensions.

    Pecoraro-Wright, who now lives in North Carolina, said she is planning to return to the area after Christmas so she could be with her parents on the fifth anniversary of the death of her brother, Joseph Pecoraro, and his wife, Barbara. The accident happened Dec. 30, 1995.

    "I was hoping that when I came down, the lights would be done and I could do a thank-you candlelight vigil on the anniversary," she said. "But I guess they aren't done so I'll have to wait on that."

    - Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.

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