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Motorists rejoice: New Keystone Road is wide and open

Traffic moves west on the newly widened Keystone Road. The stretch between U.S. 19 and East Lake Road is now four lanes.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Traffic moves west on the newly widened Keystone Road. The stretch between U.S. 19 and East Lake Road is now four lanes.

For the first time in years, it's a smooth drive past the churches, small businesses and green pastures along Keystone Road.

The heavy construction equipment is gone. And the roadway is a spacious four lanes.

Only a few roadside orange barricades and the 35 mph speed limit are reminders that construction workers are still putting on the finishing touches.

Welcome to the new Keystone Road, a once-clogged, two-lane, east-west artery between U.S. 19 and East Lake Road.

Construction on the three-mile, $32 million road-widening project began three years ago after more than a decade of planning and years more of talking.

"We're excited it's finally almost done," said Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark LeCouris. "It's been a nightmare to drive on Keystone Road for the past three years, but not anymore."

The road has more than doubled in width, with broad medians that will allow it to grow as needed to six lanes. New utility lines now run below the road.

The project also includes a connecting section of the Pinellas Trail. The trail connector remains closed as workers fix a construction error, said Pinellas County engineering supervisor Joe DeMoss. DeMoss anticipates the trail opening by September.

Among other challenges that led to the project's long time frame, Pinellas County had to buy land to widen the road. Project supervisors also had to navigate budget challenges, rainy summer weather, the needs of local businesses and a nest of underground utilities installed in the 1950s.

The Penny for Pinellas sales tax provided $25 million for the project, with an additional $7 million contributed by Pinellas County, Tarpon Springs, Verizon and the Clearwater Gas System.

The project's end comes as welcome relief to North Pinellas motorists, county and city officials and Tarpon Springs merchants who hope more customers will now travel from Odessa, Trinity and Tampa.

"I haven't heard too many complaints aside from about general construction," said East Lake resident Don Ewing, president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, adding that he drives to Tarpon Springs once or twice a month to conduct business for his software company and eat at restaurants. "It sure is nice now."

The road was widened in phases to accommodate local merchants, but the construction still confused drivers, backed up traffic and sometimes concealed business entrances.

"It wasn't the most convenient; people really had to pay attention," said Anita Rao, who opened Yoga Shakti, a meditation studio, in 2004. "But I'm so happy the way it turned out."

To help those who lost customers to construction traffic, the city is allowing businesses inside the city limits to erect outside booths and banners on weekends until Labor Day and is encouraging merchants to hold sales and other events.

Rea Sieber, who owns two Sponge Docks-area businesses and heads the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association, said all city businesses will benefit from the new road, which connects to U.S. 19 and Tarpon Avenue.

"I see lots of customers coming to this area just for the day," she said. "Now that road will make the drive faster and more efficient."

Vasile Faklis of Faklis' Department Store and Shoe Repair on E Tarpon Avenue said he appreciates the city effort to promote local businesses. His store will celebrate with sales, he said.

"Any time you have road closures and repairs it slows things down," he said "It's tough economic times."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Contact Brittany Alana Davis at bdavis@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4144.

Motorists rejoice: New Keystone Road is wide and open 08/06/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 12, 2013 4:31pm]
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