OLDSMAR — Jerry Walters uses Forest Lakes Boulevard at least once a week to get to the Westfield Citrus Park mall in northwest Hillsborough County. He doesn't like the ride. From Tampa to Race Track roads, potholes and patchwork are everywhere.
"There's over 100 of them looks like to me," he said. "It's not an easy road to travel on."
Walters is not alone in his frustration. Since October, residents have raised concerns about Forest Lakes Boulevard during the public comment portions of the Oldsmar City Council's twice-a-month meetings.
Loretta Wyandt, a former council member, talked about it at a January meeting. "I think the county's been had (by) whoever did the original construction work," she said on Thursday. "The road is not that old, and I can't imagine why it would have deteriorated so quickly. If it were me, I'd have them come back and build it correctly."
Vice Mayor Doug Bevis called Forest Lakes Boulevard, which recorded 85 accidents in 2009, "dangerous."
"When it's raining," he said at the June 1 meeting, "it's even worse."
But Walters has been the most vocal. He's brought up the issue at least four times.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said on June 1, "it's one of the worst areas to be driving in."
While city leaders feel residents' pain, they say their hands are tied. Forest Lakes Boulevard is a county road, not a city one.
"We've talked to the county," Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "We've talked to the commissioners. I know (the city manager) has also spoken with the county administrator.
"They are looking into repairing that road as quickly as possible, but they don't have a lot of money to do anything."
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It was just a little more than 7 1/2 years ago that the county unveiled the $7.4 million Forest Lakes Boulevard extension.
The 2.2-mile east-west connector gave commuters quicker and easier access between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and eased jams on Oldsmar's Douglas and Race Track roads.
The area includes the Brooker Creek Corporate Center, home to the UnitedHealth Group Co. and Nielsen Media Research's global headquarters.
In four years' time, Forest Lakes Boulevard began to show signs of decline. And by October 2006, repairs were necessary.
The county has a geotechnical consultant studying the extension, said Brent Hall, a senior department administrative manager with the Pinellas County public works department. The report is not complete, but what the county has learned is that many of Forest Lakes Boulevard's problems stem from geological deficiencies.
"The groundwater out there is artificially high," Hall said. "When you get groundwater in the base materials, it weakens it, and that's what we believe is causing the issue. The way the soil and stuff are out there you don't get the draining that you would expect. It doesn't drain away from the base and out of the roadway."
Why weren't county officials and the company that constructed the extension aware of the area's groundwater problems before now? Hall said he couldn't speak to that because he wasn't in the public works department during the design of the extension.
The construction company, J.W. Conner & Sons Inc. of Tampa, was bought out in 2005 and closed the same year.
Since 2006, Hall said, the county has paid $26,600 to patch and fill potholes on Forest Lakes Boulevard.
And in 2009, the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization gave two of Forest Lakes Boulevard's three segments an F.
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Pinellas County is weighing several options, including reconstruction of some portions of the road.
"Different segments will most likely require different remedial measures," Hall said. "The repair options will be weighed against the cost benefit and available budget resources."
The county is trying to erase an $80 million shortfall over the next two years. Despite the deficit, some repairs are expected to begin Oct. 1, he said.
"At a minimum, (we are going to do) some patching work to keep the roadway at serviceable levels prior to doing bigger remedial efforts that would be more expensive," he said. "We're talking with our consultant to come up with a plan of action for that."
Walters said the improvements to the heavily traveled extension can't come soon enough. From 6 to 10 a.m., 1,646 cars an hour travel Forest Lakes Boulevard; from 3 to 7 p.m., the number is 1,748. The road's capacity is only 868 cars an hour in one segment and 1,710 in another.
"Oldsmar has always been a city where people drive through to get where they're going," he said. Forest Lakes Boulevard "kind of puts the city down."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.