CLEARWATER - While the opening of the new Memorial Causeway Bridge in August 2005 was welcomed by motorists who had suffered through lengthy detours during its construction, County employees in downtown Clearwater were less enthusiastic.
Court and Chestnut Streets, which surround the County Courthouse building, were converted from local thoroughfares into the only access to the new bridge, creating conflicts between pedestrians and upwards of 30,000 vehicles per day of beach traffic.
For the last several months, the City of Clearwater, Pinellas County and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), who now have responsibility for Court and Chestnut Streets, have been working cooperatively to find solutions to the traffic issues that have spilled off the bridge. Those "stakeholders" have recently agreed on a set of roadway modifications that are expected to improve both pedestrian safety and vehicle flow in the area.
Lane usage on westbound Court Street approaching Ft. Harrison Avenue would be changed, providing one left-turn only lane onto southbound Ft. Harrison, one right-only onto northbound Ft. Harrison, and two through lanes. Curb bulb-outs would be installed on the west side of the intersection, providing a shorter crossing distance for pedestrians and preventing vehicles in the left and right only lanes from proceeding through the intersection.
Court Street would receive more attention west of Ft Harrison. The existing signal at Court and Oak would be replaced with a mast arm signal, and a new mast arm signal installed at Court and Osceola. The two signals would be synchronized, providing a safe pedestrian crossing at both intersections. The south curb at Osceola and Court would be bumped-out, providing a shortened pedestrian crossing distance.
Oak Avenue would be modified to ease the congestion of traffic exiting the underground Courthouse parking garage. On-street parking would be removed from the west side of Oak, and two left-turn lanes onto eastbound Chestnut Street would be created.
Eastbound Chestnut Street would be the least affected. Its pedestrian crossing at Oak Avenue would be moved to the west side of the intersection, eliminating the potential conflict between pedestrians and the Oak Avenue traffic turning left onto Chestnut.
Pete Yauch, Pinellas County Director of Transportation, favors the proposed changes. "I think it's going to work well," he said, "It will provide the needed capacity and enhance pedestrian safety."
Paul Bertels, Clearwater's Traffic Operations Manager, estimated the cost of the project at about $500-thousand. Bertels plans to meet with representatives of the County and FDOT next week to discuss funding, which he hopes can be split among the three agencies.
There is no construction schedule at this time, pending approval of the project and it's funding by the several agencies involved.
A separate improvement is planned for the area later this summer when the traffic signals at the intersections of Court and Chestnut Streets with Ft Harrison will be retimed to favor east/west traffic. That action awaits the designation of Myrtle Avenue as Alternate 19 by FDOT.
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