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Plan for Clearwater intersection angers drivers

County engineers plan to improve traffic times by preventing westbound drivers on Drew Street from turning left onto McMullen-Booth or heading straight through the intersection.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

County engineers plan to improve traffic times by preventing westbound drivers on Drew Street from turning left onto McMullen-Booth or heading straight through the intersection.

CLEARWATER — Sometimes, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

That's the logic Pinellas County traffic engineers applied to the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and Drew Street.

They plan to make a controversial change there, preventing westbound drivers on Drew Street from turning left onto McMullen-Booth or heading straight through the intersection. Instead, those drivers will only be able to turn right.

Engineers say this will inconvenience a small number of motorists while speeding up north-south traffic flow on congested McMullen-Booth.

The very idea outrages drivers like Tom Nocera, who lives off Drew Street east of the intersection. "This is something that's not been well thought out," said Nocera.

Safety Harbor city commissioners oppose the change because it will inconvenience some Safety Harbor commuters.

Residents of Clearwater's Del Oro Groves neighborhood and Harbour Towne condominiums also will be inconvenienced. The Clearwater City Council will vote Thursday night whether to support the change or oppose it. Members discussed the issue at a work session Tuesday, but it's not clear how they'll vote.

It's ultimately Pinellas County's decision whether to move forward with the long-planned change. And Pinellas officials think the change is necessary.

"This is one of the most congested intersections in the county," said Peter Yauch, the county's director of public works and transportation.

Numbers game

People who live east of the intersection think they should be able to drive west on Drew toward destinations like U.S. 19, St. Petersburg College, Clearwater's East Branch Library, Best Buy and Calvary Baptist Church. Or they should be able to turn left at the intersection and head south.

But traffic engineers say only 1,500 vehicles a day do those things, compared to 83,000 a day that pass through the whole intersection. They say that by eliminating those options, they can shave nearly a minute off the time that cars on McMullen-Booth are stopped at red lights at the intersection.

Yauch believes traffic flow on McMullen-Booth is a higher priority. In the morning, southbound traffic backs up past Ruth Eckerd Hall. In the evening, northbound traffic backs up onto Bayside Bridge, he said.

As a north-south traffic corridor, McMullen-Booth has been "successful beyond our wildest dreams," he told the Clearwater City Council on Tuesday. The Bayside Bridge carries nearly 75,000 vehicles per day, more than twice what was originally predicted.

Also, he said the affected drivers have other options for traveling west, like Sunset Point Road, State Road 590 and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

Drivers like Nocera don't like those options. "Drew Street is a C-rated road. It's a direct route to a lot of things, without going on F-rated roads like 590 or Gulf-to-Bay," he said.

He also thinks westbound drivers are more likely to turn north on McMullen-Booth, then do a U-turn and head back to the Drew Street intersection.

The Clearwater City Council had a lot of questions for the Pinellas traffic engineers. Among other things, they wanted to know why more residents haven't been notified about the upcoming change.

"This is a situation where there is no good answer," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. "It's a balancing act."

Engineers are making three other changes to the intersection:

• Adding a southbound right turn lane from McMullen-Booth onto Drew.

• Reconfiguring northbound McMullen-Booth to provide two left turn lanes onto Drew.

• The left turn from eastbound Drew onto northbound McMullen-Booth would go from two lanes to three.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Plan for Clearwater intersection angers drivers 01/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 7:33pm]

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