CLEARWATER — A million-dollar traffic calming project to slow down speeders in the Morningside-Meadows neighborhood has hit some snags. It was supposed to be finished by now, but it's months behind schedule.
Next week, the Clearwater City Council will be asked to extend the deadline to finish the job. Officials now say it'll be done by the end of June.
Neighbors are tired of the construction, tired of problems like a shoddily built traffic roundabout that residents nicknamed the "sinking sombrero." And their opinions are mixed when it comes to the roundabouts and "bulb-out" medians and various other traffic calming measures that are intended to make drivers ease off the gas pedal.
However, most Morningside residents agree on one thing: The temporary "speed tables" that the city installed on their streets in 2007 are so effective that the neighborhood wants to keep them permanently.
The 12 temporary devices were originally supposed to come out once the entire traffic calming project is finished. But at the neighborhood's request, the City Council recently agreed to make the speed tables a permanent feature of this east Clearwater subdivision, at an additional cost of $44,000.
"We feel they should be kept," said Norene Marlow, president of the Morningside-Meadows Homeowners Association. "If you take out the tables, the traffic is going to continue to flow with no slowing down at all."
The temporary speed tables are "a little high," said Paul Bertels, Clearwater's traffic operations manager. So a few inches will be ground off the tops of them.
Residents of the 688-home Morningside-Meadows neighborhood started asking for traffic calming measures a decade ago because drivers kept speeding through their quiet streets to avoid traffic on U.S. 19 or Belcher Road, which bracket the neighborhood.
They asked for the work to be fast-tracked in 2007 after two men died in a speeding car that smashed into an oak tree in the neighborhood.
That led to the installation of the "temporary" speed tables, which work like speed bumps but are broader and lower. They're on Harn Boulevard and a few other streets.
What neighbors want
Despite the inconveniences caused by the ongoing construction, Marlow said traffic calming has considerable support in the neighborhood. At an annual homeowners board meeting, more than 50 residents voted to keep the speed tables, and only two objected.
To even get the traffic calming project going in the first place, at least 65 percent of the neighborhood had to approve the plan.
Construction on the $1.5 million project began last May. Penny for Pinellas sales taxes are paying for the work. It includes three roundabouts, two mini-roundabouts, raised medians, new stop signs and crosswalks.
Harn and Stewart boulevards also now have "bulb-outs," traffic calming devices that narrow the street in certain spots by widening the curb and sidewalk. Bertels said they're supposed to act like parked cars on the street, which tend to slow down drivers.
The bulb-outs are hard to see at night, so they're being protected by lighted barricades. Soon, decorative shrubs in planters and reflective paint on curbs will make the devices easier to see, officials said.
The traffic calming project has faced delays for a couple of reasons.
"It's about 120 days behind schedule because of utility conflicts," Bertels said. "There's drainage systems there that nobody knew anything about. Some went back to 1960. They were like layers in an archeological dig."
There have been other problems, like the roundabout that workers built at the neighborhood's entrance off Belcher Road. Neighbors said its curved foundation made it resemble a sinking sombrero.
"We looked at the workmanship of the roundabout and felt that its appearance was shoddy and not of the quality that we felt should represent our neighborhood's main entrance," Marlow said. After neighbors complained, the work is being redone.
Bertels said the problem was a ridge that runs down the middle of Harn Boulevard.
"The crown of the road is the highest point of the neighborhood's drainage system," he said. "The roundabout, instead of being flat like a pancake, was like a pancake being draped over a slight ridge."
Some neighborhood residents say they're unhappy with the road construction because crews haven't consistently posted signs that say "DETOUR" or "ROAD CLOSED."
"They're not calming any traffic. They're making everybody turn around in our driveways," said resident Mike Courey. "On Harn Boulevard, why do we have at least 50 cars a day that get down here (where the road is closed for roundabout construction) and turn around?"
Others question whether all this traffic calming will really be needed in Morningside within a couple of years. That's because the state plans to cut off Harn Boulevard's direct connection to U.S. 19 when that part of the state highway is reconstructed.
But both Marlow and Bertels insist the traffic calming is still necessary because drivers on Harn will still be able to reach southbound U.S. 19 via a frontage road.
"There's still going to be some cut-through traffic," Bertels said.
"I believe that when the construction and landscaping are complete," Marlow said, "this area of Clearwater will get a much-needed facelift."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151.