EAST LAKE — Two Mondays from now, a monthlong road construction project will begin at the intersection of East Lake Road and Trinity Boulevard near the Pinellas-Pasco border.
At the urging of nearby residents, Pinellas County will create a new northbound-to-southbound dedicated U-turn lane at that intersection. Drivers headed north on East Lake Road will be able to whip around and head straight back south.
Why is this necessary? The U-turn lane is partly for residents of Crescent Oaks community, who want a safer way to drive south.
Crescent Oaks' 440 homes are on the east side of East Lake Road, just north of Keystone Road and just south of the Pasco County line. The only way in or out is through the intersection of Crescent Oaks Boulevard and East Lake Road.
Right now, when people drive out of Crescent Oaks Boulevard and turn left across East Lake Road to go south, they must zip across two lanes of often-busy traffic, all the while hoping that no one else zooms down from the north just in time to cut in front of them. Residents compare it to playing Russian roulette.
Actually, what they really want is a traffic light on East Lake Road at their community's exit. They've been fighting for a traffic light for years, only to be disappointed.
Back in 2006, Pinellas County commissioners agreed to install a light, with one catch: Residents would have to pay the cost of designing, installing and purchasing the traffic light, estimated at $150,000 to $200,000. That proved to be a tall order.
Earlier this year, Crescent Oaks residents asked for a traffic light again after a series of three wrecks in a few months at that location.
Again, the answer was no. "Our primary concern is that to interrupt high-speed traffic on East Lake creates a higher crash potential than they're experiencing right now," Peter Yauch, the county's director of public works and transportation, said earlier this year. He has since left that position for a job in the private sector.
Crescent Oaks isn't giving up the fight.
"They're fearful that other communities will start asking for traffic lights," said John Miolla, president of the Crescent Oaks Community Association. "We're only asking because of the number of accidents."
So, a dedicated U-turn lane nearby at East Lake Road and Trinity Boulevard is a compromise.
The construction work is to start Dec. 3, and should take about a month, said Tom Washburn, manager of Pinellas County's traffic engineering section. Once the turn lane is finished, engineers will modify the timing of the traffic signal.
"All other traffic at the intersection will be stopped, and that will allow northbound drivers to make a U-turn," Washburn said. "Right now they can't really do that because there is no left turn lane there."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.