LARGO — Like a skull and crossbones on an old seafarer's map, the flashing roadside sign foretold the treacherous way to come.
EXPECT DELAYS. ONE-LANE ROAD AHEAD.
Rush-hour traffic stacked up on each end of Belcher Road between East Bay Drive and Bryan Dairy Road on Wednesday afternoon.
Horns honked. Brake lights flared.
Motorists, say city and county officials, can expect more of the same along that route — for the next 14 months.
The six lanes of that mid county north-south artery in Largo have been reduced to two because the entire southbound section of roadway will be torn up so that a defective 4-foot-wide water main can be removed and replaced with new pipe.
Traffic in both directions will now travel on two lanes that were formerly just northbound.
"It is expected that traffic congestion and frustration will occur," said Largo police spokesman Mike Loux.
Residents who live on the 3.5-mile stretch say to that: obviously.
During the morning rush hour, compounded by school bus traffic, the two-thirds reduction in lanes has caused trouble even for some trying to leave their apartment complexes. Sometimes it's hard to find a break in the line of cars to make a turn.
Harry Papas, a resident of the Laguna Vista condo complex along the route near East Bay, said he suspected it would only get more cumbersome as construction rolls out.
"It will become a hassle," Papas said, given that the project is expected to last more than a year.
The rate of construction will progress at a rate of about a quarter-mile per month. By comparison, the Panama Canal was built at a rate of just under a half-mile per month, though at a cost of 5,600 lives.
The need for the county to spend $7.46 million replacing the water main goes back nearly 20 years, said Pinellas County utilities manager Paul Giuliani.
"The problem is they (the pipes) were manufactured defective. Fifteen miles of pipeline were defective," Giuliani said. "The pipe was installed in the '70s. It should have lasted 100 years or more. But it didn't."
In the early 1990s, county officials sued the manufacturer, Interpace Corp., because metal used in the current concrete pipes was causing leaks.
Interpace eventually went bankrupt, and the county was able to collect only $4.2 million in compensation.
There was at least one instance in Pinellas of pipe made by the company bursting, resulting in a sewage spill, according to St. Petersburg Times archives.
Largo commissioner Curtis Holmes, after hearing a complaint from residents, suggested the county should do more to mediate the "traffic nightmare" along the route.
Currently, the contractor has hired off-duty Largo police officers to monitor the construction area and help with traffic, Loux said.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or [email protected]