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Sam's Club would add traffic on F-rated St. Petersburg road

ST. PETERSBURG — A Sam's Club, sure, neighbors say. Resulting traffic? Just do something to ease it.

But they'll want the city to do better than ask for a pair of bus shelters and some sidewalks.

The first warehouse club planned for St. Petersburg could sit at 17th Avenue N and 34th Street as early as 2013. Main arteries to the spot, now home to an Office Depot, are congested 22nd Avenue N and 34th Street, also known as U.S. 19.

The stretch of 22nd Avenue N between Interstate 275 and 34th Street has been overworked since 1993. That's how long it has been called "deficient," earning an E or F rating, according to the county Metropolitan Planning Organization. Its peak traffic outstrips its physical capacity. It's already as wide as it can be.

City traffic planners say it's good, then, that 34th Street will take the brunt of new traffic. The street from Fifth Avenue N to 22nd Avenue N is rated a "C."

"We feel the real impact will be on 34th, which is fine," said Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation.

But Todd Herring, president of the North Kenwood Neighborhood Association, sees a need for new traffic lights. So do folks who work in the area.

"It's rough enough now," said Steve Danezscher, who works in the office at Tommy's Auto Service at 2643 22nd Ave. N. "We hear crashes all the time."

A trip to Sweetbay, which would share a shopping center along 34th Street with Sam's Club, means a left-hand turn off 22nd Avenue. It's the same for any cars coming off Interstate 275. Danezscher could see another light at 32nd Street, which would help cars from I-275 turn left behind Sweetbay and Sam's. On the 34th Street side, Herring and Danezscher say a light would make sense at 17th Avenue.

Kubicki points out there's already a traffic light at 28th Street, in addition to the one at 34th Street, which he says creates adequate gaps for people to pull out. A more detailed evaluation is still to come, but he doesn't see a need for Sam's Club developers to put in traffic signals.

Because there's already an Office Depot store on the site, which would be demolished to make way for Sam's Club, the city calculates the warehouse store would add just 120 net peak-hour trips, the bulk of them on 34th Street. The city's staff report to the Planning and Visioning Commission said that wouldn't have a significant impact on the roads' levels of service.

New bus shelters, one on 34th Street and one on 22nd Avenue N, plus careful design in the shopping center itself to make walking easier, should be fine, Kubicki said.

U.S. 19 already supports the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's most popular routes, with buses leaving every 20 minutes.

Herring, of the neighborhood association, will be watching for the city's more detailed traffic evaluation, which will follow an official site plan from developers this summer. If it fails to recommend more than shelters and sidewalks, he says the neighborhood may ask for another review.

Next in the Sam's Club process is a City Council public hearing March 4 on land use and zoning changes that would allow 8 acres of industrial property owned by Times Publishing Co. to be included in the Sam's Club project. Those changes will go before the Pinellas Planning Council in April and the County Commission in May.

A land use request in the mix broadens the conversation on road impact, said Brian Smith, executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Officials will have to consider burdens on the road network for the next 20 years — not just for the Sam's Club, but other projects around it.

Already, Publix says it's considering a newer, larger replacement for its '70s-era store at 1700 34th St. N, directly across from the proposed Sam's.

"We've got a lot of stuff going on," Herring said. "And it's good."

Just as long the city listens.

Becky Bowers can be reached at bbowers@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8859.

Sam's Club would add traffic on F-rated St. Petersburg road 02/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2010 3:37pm]
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