Beginning late this summer, residents and visitors along Pinellas County’s beaches can expect to encounter construction at various points between Sand Key and St. Pete Beach. It’s all part of a plan by the county to improve the flow of traffic and make it safer during emergencies.
Members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council heard an update on the project from County Engineer Robert Meador, who spoke at the group’s monthly meeting Feb. 28.
Meador introduced two concepts that the county will be putting into use along the beaches — Intelligent Transportation Systems and the Advanced Traffic Management System.
When combined, they will enable engineers to monitor traffic flow along Gulf Boulevard and direct motorists to alternate routes when it gets heavy.
To do that, a number of "Dynamic Message Signs" will be placed at major intersections along the road. In addition, 31 closed-circuit TV cameras will send signals back to county headquarters to keep staff up to date on road conditions.
"It will give our emergency management people a great advantage," Meador said. "When (Hurricane) Irma hit us we would have been able to see the traffic tie-ups and re-direct them."
But putting in those cameras, along with 14 signs, won’t be easy. Meador said the structures to hold them require a strong concrete base, thus the construction.
The cameras and signs must be linked, which will mean putting conduit underground along Gulf Boulevard.
"It will be a moving operation," Meador said. "The contractor will do underground work in one place then move along to another."
The electronics also must be linked to the county’s emergency management center on the mainland. That will require running fiber optic cable under the Intracoastal Waterway.
Meador said he expects hold-ups once construction begins.
"We never know what we are going to encounter once we start digging," he said. "There is plenty buried along Gulf Boulevard — utilities, water pipes, sewer pipes and so on."
Some members of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, known as "Big-C," expressed doubts about the project. Among them: Belleair Beach Mayor Leslie Notaro, who was the first to speak.
"We in Belleair Beach are not thrilled with those DMS signs," she said. "What purpose will they serve? Once you are on Gulf Boulevard there really isn’t anywhere to go."
St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson wasn’t happy with the cost of the systems.
"We don’t want the signs; we could use the money for our undergrounding projects," he said. "Either way it could save money."
Indian Rocks Beach officials already had told the county they did not want the signs within the city limits. The civic group, Action 2000, whose mission is the beautification of Gulf Boulevard, objected to the signs and the City Commission agreed.
Meador told the group that plans for the project will be finalized next month, so now is the time to speak up.
"If the Big-C says no we don’t want it then we don’t do it," he said. The council is composed of representatives from 11 municipalities along the Pinellas beaches, from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater.
Construction on the project would begin in August or September, and is expected to take a year to complete.