CLEARWATER — Responding to pressure from Clearwater and Safety Harbor, Pinellas County announced Tuesday that it's making changes to its controversial plan for the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and Drew Street.
The county had intended to prevent westbound drivers on Drew from turning left onto McMullen-Booth or heading straight through the intersection. Instead, those drivers would have only been able to turn right. The purpose of this was to shorten the signal time at the intersection and speed up north-south traffic flow on McMullen-Booth.
However, people who live east of the intersection complained that the plan was faulty and that the county hadn't told them about it.
Last week, the Clearwater City Council asked the county to go ahead with its other planned changes to the intersection first, then study whether it really needs to put restrictions on westbound drivers.
On Tuesday, county engineers agreed. They are making three non-controversial changes:
• Adding a southbound right turn lane from McMullen-Booth onto Drew.
• Reconfiguring northbound McMullen-Booth to provide two left-turn lanes onto Drew.
• Adding a third left-turn lane from eastbound Drew onto northbound McMullen-Booth.
"Recognizing the concerns of Clearwater residents affected by the proposed restrictions to the westbound left turn and through movements on Drew Street, we will agree to construct this project in two phases, delaying these potential restrictions until after the added lanes have been completed," Peter Yauch, the county's director of public works and transportation, said in a letter to Clearwater. "Then, working with city staff, we will evaluate the intersection's operation to determine the ultimate course of action."
Opponents of the controversial change are still watchful. They wonder if the county is simply delaying it. "If the outcome is still going to be the same, then that's not acceptable," said Tom Nocera, who lives off Drew east of the intersection.
But Clearwater and Safety Harbor officials are satisfied that the county listened.
"I think it's the right process. We should see how much difference the left turn improvements make," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. "They may alleviate the issue for the time being, because you're going to be able to get a lot more volume through."
Safety Harbor also opposed the plan because it would have inconvenienced some of that city's commuters. "We're pleased that the county is revisiting the details of this project," said Safety Harbor spokesman Brad Purdy. "We're glad that our residents will be able to get out that way. Hopefully, it stays open."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.