TARPON SPRINGS — A major new roadway that will connect Alt. U.S. 19 and U.S. 19 and serve as an evacuation route is being built like a two-lane rural collector street with no curbs or gutters.
And though the road will cut through neighborhoods and back up to an elementary school, there will be no sidewalks for pedestrians who want to walk to the school or a nearby Sweetbay Supermarket.
The road also will have only ditches or "swales," not storm drains, to collect rainwater. A completed section flooded in a recent rainstorm.
The lack of urban street amenities surprised some city commissioners.
"I'm certainly disappointed that the city staff has allowed a substandard road to be built that is also being proposed as a new hurricane evacuation route," said Commissioner Townsend Tarapani. "To put a road in without curb and gutter while going across wetlands, knowing it's going to flood, is being misguided."
Joseph A. DiPasqua, the city's Development Services director, said that the new Meres Boulevard is being built to Pinellas County's standards as a "collector" street. Curbs, gutters and sidewalks are not required under that standard, he said.
But the county code states that "sidewalks shall be required on all arterial, collector, commercial and subdivision streets."
And the county insisted that the portion of Meres from Alt. U.S. 19 to the Pinellas Trail be built with curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
"We reviewed the plan to make sure there was no impact to the Pinellas Trail and that it would serve a true transportation benefit, making sure the connection was made and designed appropriately from the county's standpoint," said Rob Meadow, a county division manager for road and drainage, speaking about the portion of Meres that abuts the trail.
"For the remainder of the road, we left it to the city and what they wanted to see, since they were going to be responsible for maintaining it."
Some Tarpon Springs commissioners question why the Meres Boulevard extension, which goes through the city's minority neighborhoods, isn't being built with curbs and gutters.
"That's news to me," said Mayor David Archie. "My assumption was that it was going to have curbs and gutters. I knew it was a basic road. And I knew there would be no sidewalks. But I just assumed that the road was going to have curb and gutter."
The road is being built by A.G. Armstrong, the company developing the adjoining Meres Crossing office/retail project. In October 2008, the city reached an agreement with A.G. Armstrong that requires the company to complete the road from Alt. U.S. 19 to U.S. 19. The extreme east and west ends of the road are finished; permitting for the middle section is nearing completion.
The cost of the construction is about $5.3 million. Tarpon Springs will contribute $1.4 million and A.G. Armstrong will get another $1.8 million from Pinellas County's transportation impact fees.
Some city officials felt a basic roadway was the best the city could get from the company.
"The agreement was for them (A.G. Armstrong) to provide a very simple road," said Commissioner Chris Alahouzos, who was on the commission when the 2008 vote on the agreement was taken.
The agreement specifically exempts the developer from providing water and sewer lines, electrical lines/poles, sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic calming devices, landscaping, streetscape amenities, telephone cabling or stormwater lines on the portion of the new road from Safford Avenue to U.S. 19.
"I would like to have a four-lane highway with sidewalks and lights," Alahouzos added. "But it's something we had to get done. Then, in a later day, when we get funding, we will go back and put in sidewalks, lights, curb and gutters. The road they are supposed to give is supposed to be a good working road."
This is not the only east-west connector between Alt. U.S. 19 and U.S. 19 built in the city in recent years. In December 1997, the city opened Live Oak Street to traffic, touting it as thoroughfare that could bring tourists directly from U.S. 19 to Tarpon's main tourist attraction, the Sponge Docks. That road, at a cost of nearly $3 million, has curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
Commissioner Jeff Larsen believes the city is missing an opportunity with Meres Boulevard.
"I know there may be plans to make more ultimate improvements," he said. "But I do think it's problematic not to get it right the first time."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com and (727) 445-4174