CLEARWATER — Chalk up a victory for Clearwater and for beach-bound drivers.
City officials were steamed that CSX Railroad was about to close the main routes to and from Clearwater Beach for at least a week apiece to work on railroad crossings.
The company's plan was to shut down all four lanes of Court Street. After finishing there, the railroad crew would move south to Chestnut Street. Each of the one-way thoroughfares would have been closed for at least five days.
All of this would have started June 14, leading to some nasty detours and traffic snarls. For instance, beach-bound drivers would have been routed down two-lane Cleveland Street downtown and then N Fort Harrison Avenue, which is already congested.
Mayor Frank Hibbard has been pressuring CSX to change its plans and do repairs on Court and Chestnut in just two lanes at a time, leaving half the roads open to traffic.
But railroad officials turned him down. CSX said its plan was the most efficient way to do the repair work on the line, which runs along East Avenue downtown.
"Closing the crossing completely is the best course. It maximizes the efficiency of the work — getting it completed and back open," said CSX spokesman Gary Sease.
So Hibbard sent out an e-mail Tuesday asking for help. It went to the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce. The two chambers sent it to all of their members.
"The bottom line is that it costs more money to close two lanes at a time and so CSX has made an economic decision that favors them and disregards our residents, businesses and guests," the message said. Call or e-mail CSX, the mayor said.
So people did. People like Sheila Cole of the Beach Chamber, who raised concerns about hurricane evacuation routes.
And by Thursday, Hibbard was on the phone with CSX's chief operating officer, David Brown.
"We talked about the corridor and the constrained roads that lead to the beach. We also discussed the recession, difficult spring and the oil that is threatening Florida's coast," Hibbard said.
Brown agreed to postpone the repair work and switch to a plan of closing two lanes at a time instead of all four. It's not clear exactly when the work will begin.
"I am thankful to everyone who had a hand in making this happen and also want to thank CSX for being sensitive to the local economy," the mayor said.
CSX is replacing rotten wooden railroad ties underneath the street surface. It's a job that hasn't been done in downtown Clearwater since 1977, said Paul Bertels, the city's traffic operations manager.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.