Although everyone agreed 102nd Avenue N needs to be fixed, county commissioners decided Tuesday to rethink a proposal to widen the busy road.
The goal is to come up with a plan that will ease the congestion many residents suffer when driving 102nd without adversely affecting the quality of life and safety of the neighborhood.
With a bit of luck, a new plan would cost less than the $33-million price tag on the existing proposal. Pinellas County staff members should have a ballpark estimate of the cost of an alternate plan within the next 60 days.
The county had proposed widening 102nd from Seminole Boulevard west to Antilles Drive (137th Street N) to four lanes, and add a median, bike lanes and sidewalks on each side. County traffic officials said the work was necessary because the road is substandard for the estimated 20,000 vehicles that travel the road daily.
But Tuesday, traffic officials backed off a bit, saying that they did not expect a growth in the amount of traffic in the area. Limiting the widening to three lanes, or finding another solution without widening the road, would not cause problems there or elsewhere in the county.
The proposal provoked a swarm of protest from residents of the area who argued the final product would produce more speeding in the area as well as make it unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists and horseback riders. They also said it would disturb the ambience of the neighborhood.
Those arguments resonated with a majority of the County Commission during a Tuesday workshop at the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater.
"The decision that we make is going to affect the quality of life and character of this 102nd community … forever," Commissioner John Morroni said. Widening the road to four lanes would help a bit, but Morroni said that spending $33-million for a very negligible amount of improvement is unnecessary."
Commissioner Karen Seel agreed that the area is unique and should be preserved as much as possible.
"I don't see that we would get the incremental safety improvements by what's being proposed," Seel said. "I think we need to go back and analyze this road."
Commissioner Bob Stewart said the county staff has to look at several items: The need for improvements, safety and intersections; the cost of an alternative and the time frame for getting a project completed.
"This requires a revision of the planning that's taken place," Stewart said.
Not all commissioners agreed. Calvin Harris said that all neighborhoods are unique in their own way and that traffic decisions must be made with the entire county in mind.
Susan Latvala was more emphatic: "I have not heard any compelling reasons not to move forward with this project except that it's in somebody's back yard. … This is the one shot to make improvements to this road. … The people you sell your homes to will be here begging some future commission to do something about it."