Thursday, May 24, 2018
Transportation

Elevating Gandy Boulevard near the Wawa draws anger

PINELLAS PARK — Business owners and public officials are outraged over a state proposal to raise an intersection on Gandy Boulevard. They say an elevated roadway would kill off businesses.

The state Department of Transportation is proposing an elevated interchange that would replace a ground-level intersection at Gandy Boulevard and Grand Avenue, one of the main entrances to the Gateway Business Centre. Grand is part of the border between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. Traffic lights now control the intersection where it crosses Gandy Boulevard.

It's an area that has seen much development in the past few years, including apartments and businesses, especially on the Pinellas Park side. In the past year alone, Pinellas Park records show that Wawa spent an estimated $1.08 million in construction costs to locate its first Pinellas convenience store/gas station at the intersection. Next door to the Wawa, Dimmitt Cadillac expanded, spending about $1.39 million in construction costs for its Rolls-Royce Tampa Bay dealership.

It's the possible damage to those, and other businesses in the area, that have people angry. They point to nearby U.S. 19 and 110th Avenue N where there once was a thriving shopping center, a Staples office supply store and a Burger King, among other businesses. All closed after that interchange was elevated, making it hard for customers to get to those businesses.

"We've already seen one shopping center that's a ghost town," said Pinellas Park City Council member Patti Johnson. "If there's a flyover, we're going to lose big."

The impact of a business' closure has many implications, said Terry England of England Brothers Construction Co. Not only is the owner's livelihood lost, but so is the tax money from that business. And the "value of the real estate that is crushed sometimes," he said, which means ad valorem taxes also decrease, England said. The result is less tax money flowing for the maintenance of the roadway and for other services. Those end up being paid for by placing a bigger tax burden on those left behind, he said.

"There's a lot of other issues that come up," England said.

Representatives of Dimmitt and Wawa could not be reached for comment.

The proposal by the state Department of Transportation to create an elevated interchange at Grand Avenue is part of a larger set of projects scheduled for Gandy over the next few years.

One project, estimated to cost about $82.9 million, will make improvements to the approximately 2.5-mile portion of Gandy from east of Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg to west of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Changes include controlled access to Gandy and the addition of pedestrian and bike lanes.

The other, estimated to cost about $49.6 million, is centered on the approximately 1.6-mile stretch of Gandy from east of Interstate 275 to east of U.S. 19 N. That's the segment that includes the Gandy-Grand intersection. Under the proposal, drivers heading west go up the overpass at Grand, come down to ground level and then go back up the existing overpass that crosses U.S. 19 — a kind of roller coaster effect.

That's cause for safety concerns, said Patrick Murphy, interim community development administrator. The configuration, he said, will encourage faster driving. Cars will be coming at high rates of speed into one of the most congested areas of Pinellas Park — entrances and exits from multiple businesses including the busy Shoppes at Park Place, Home Depot and Cheddars restaurant. That intersection is also made tricky because of traffic pouring in from U.S. 19.

Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said city officials met with DOT representatives to try to head off the plan. The DOT representatives told them, and attendees at a Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, that there is an alternate proposal that would leave the interchange at grade.

But Caddell said DOT representatives refused to give city officials copies of the two proposals and declined to give written guarantees that the ground-level option would be chosen.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

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