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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000
Pinellas County is about to begin construction to extend Hillsborough County's Linebaugh Avenue west into Pinellas.
It's about time.
Officials have been talking about the new east-west road for more than a decade -- so long that many Pinellas residents probably had given up on it ever being built.
Hillsborough County finished its own extension of Linebaugh to the Pinellas County line in 1997, but westbound motorists who wanted to take it into Pinellas encountered a dead end at Race Track Road and nothing but dirt and bushes ahead of them.
Pinellas' $7.2-million extension, which will be called Forest Lakes Boulevard, will give motorists an alternative to a busy section of Tampa Road and will allow many drivers to avoid narrow, congested Race Track Road entirely.
The road is especially needed now that Citrus Park Town Center, the new mall in northwest Hillsborough County, has become so popular with North Pinellas residents. The entire area between the new mall and the Pinellas line is booming with new homes and shopping centers, so the need for quick and easy travel across the county line likely will only increase in the years ahead.
The new road also will be helpful when traffic in that area of Oldsmar increases soon because of construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and new businesses at the Tampa Bay Park of Commerce.
This time next year, Pinellas officials say, the new Forest Lakes Boulevard should be open to traffic. Merry Christmas 2001.
The good news keeps coming for downtown Dunedin. Can that city do anything wrong when it comes to its downtown?
Last week came the announcement that a 75-room Holiday Inn Express will be built on a long-abandoned corner at the north gateway to downtown. Site preparation already is under way on the property at the corner of Alt. U.S. 19 and Skinner Boulevard.
A strip shopping center used to operate on the property, but the state Department of Transportation later bought it and used the corner to store construction equipment associated with the construction of State Road 580 north of downtown.
A local family that operates motels in Dunedin bought the property, demonstrating its confidence in the continued success of the revitalized downtown. City officials have offered to assist the family with design and landscaping plans that would help the new hotel fit in with downtown, and the family hopefully will take advantage of the offer and the city's track record of success downtown.
Another bit of news out of Dunedin last week illustrates in a small way why downtown Dunedin continues to thrive.
Some motorists criticized city officials years ago when they persuaded DOT to give up control of Main Street and the city modified the street severely to slow traffic to a crawl. City officials stuck to their guns, however, saying that the new downtown they envisioned, bisected as it is by the Pinellas Trail, needed to be a safe and welcoming place for pedestrians. Motorists could go around downtown if they were in a hurry.
No doubt city officials are facing new criticism for a more recent decision that puts pedestrians' needs ahead of those of motorists.
The city has installed a device at the busy intersection of Douglas Avenue and Main Street that will allow pedestrians to stop traffic in all directions, rather than just two directions, when they want to cross.
The device probably will slow the passage of cars through downtown even more, but Mayor Tom Anderson says, "Tough." The device, which is not in common use in this part of Florida, will increase safety for pedestrians, and that's where Dunedin officials intend to keep their focus.
"It seems like the signals we have in Florida are geared toward the automobile and not the pedestrian," said Bob Brotherton, the city's director of public works and utilities. "We're trying to change that in our downtown."
In some parts of overdeveloped Florida, the focus has to be on moving traffic. But that isn't the case in downtown Dunedin, where part of the charm is a leisurely pace and plenty of pedestrian amenities.
Tarpon Springs may want to consider some of Dunedin's successes as city officials there begin firming up plans for a downtown revitalization.
Tarpon Springs city commissioners last week approved a new downtown plan that, if successfully implemented, will bring positive change to that city's historic downtown and the area between downtown and the Anclote River.
The vote on the plan was unanimous, despite some criticism of the plan's concepts by people Commissioner Beverley Billiris referred to as "dream-stealers." The vote took courage, but commissioners' work is not done. The downtown plan is likely to become an issue during the upcoming city election campaign, a time when a lot of negativism seems to surface. City commissioners will need to move quickly to build enough political support and community enthusiasm for the plan's concepts, which still are rather loosely drawn, to weather the election season.