CLEARWATER — Faced with complaints from drivers, Clearwater officials are going to implore Pinellas County to reconsider its controversial plans for the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and Drew Street.
The county intends to prevent westbound drivers on Drew from turning left onto McMullen-Booth or heading straight through the intersection. Instead, those drivers will only be able to turn right. Traffic engineers say this will inconvenience a small number of motorists while speeding up north-south traffic flow on congested McMullen-Booth.
Thursday night, 10 people who frequently drive through that intersection spoke to the Clearwater City Council. They live off Drew Street east of McMullen-Booth and would be among those inconvenienced.
But speaker after speaker said driver safety is the concern.
"What the county is proposing to eliminate is not only left-turn traffic going south, but also through traffic going west. As a practical matter, drivers will find themselves turning right (north) but wanting to go west or south," said Al Galbraith of the Del Oro Groves Estates neighborhood association, which opposes the change. "They will make a U-turn in the middle of McMullen-Booth Road. That's dangerous or impossible most of the time."
Several residents also complained that they hadn't been notified about the change.
The City Council asked for the opinion of Paul Bertels, Clearwater's traffic operations manager. He suggested that Pinellas County should first go ahead with the other three changes that it plans to make at 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.
• Adding a third left turn lane from eastbound Drew onto northbound McMullen-Booth.
"Those three are going to give us significant improvements by themselves," Bertels said. "If we don't get the level of improvement that we anticipated, you could always kick in Phase 2, which would be to modify the east approach of Drew and not allow through and left-turning traffic. If you did that, what would happen is essentially you'd take down two signal heads and stripe an island. It's not very complicated."
The City Council voted to send a letter to the County Commission, asking it to do those three changes and hold off on the controversial change.
Safety Harbor city commissioners also oppose the change because it will inconvenience some Safety Harbor commuters. They plan to discuss it further at their meeting Tuesday night.
It's ultimately Pinellas County's decision whether to move forward with the plans.
People who live east of the intersection think they should be able to drive west on Drew, or turn left at the intersection and head south on McMullen-Booth.
County traffic engineers say only 1,500 vehicles a day do those things, compared with 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.
They say 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.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.