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Drivers racking up speeding tickets on new Keystone Road

TARPON SPRINGS

If you speed down Keystone Road, you're likely to miss the unobtrusive roadside sign in front of Frankie's Patriot BBQ.

"Speeder Special! Bring in your speeding ticket and get 1/2 off any meal," says a white sandwich board sign, the words printed in black marker.

The deal gives a chuckle and a welcome to rankled motorists, particularly those fresh off a one-on-one encounter with one of the three law enforcement agencies patrolling the newly widened four-lane road.

Restaurant owner Craig Gross said two customers have cashed in on their speeding tickets, ordering pulled pork BBQ platters.

"It's a way to humor someone who got a ticket and give them six bucks off a sandwich," Gross said, cracking a wry smile. "If you get a ticket, you tend not to be very amused."

For three years, the 3-mile stretch between East Lake Road and U.S. 19 has been clogged by road construction. But now it's spacious and open, with a 35 mph speed limit that's a real test of self-restraint. The speed limit will jump to 45 mph when all construction is done.

Some residents have accused officers of setting a speed trap, but Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen said that's not the case.

His department, along with the Florida Highway Patrol and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, are paying extra attention to that road because the long stretch and wide medians make it a tempting place to go too fast, he said.

In the short term, he said, it's still a construction zone, with workers winding down after years of work. One day last week, bulldozers moved piles of dirt on the side of the road, and two men stood 5 feet from whizzing traffic as they shoveled dirt around a sewer line.

"We want people to know we're going to be out here setting the mark for safety," Kochen said, driving 40 mph in his unmarked patrol car and gesturing to a black Nissan breezing past him. "We want them to get used to seeing us out here so they will slow down."

According to Police Department data, Tarpon Springs officers issued 56 tickets and gave 49 warnings between July 15 and Aug. 7. During the same period, the Florida Highway Patrol ticketed 21 motorists, and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ticketed three while giving 108 written warnings, according to those agencies.

A driver exceeding the speed limit by 15 to 19 mph in a Pinellas County construction zone pays $406 for a ticket. At 30 mph over the speed limit (which translates to 65 mph on Keystone), you get a court date.

Tarpon Springs officers have stopped drivers going 52 to 72 mph on Keystone, with an average speed among those drivers of 59.5 mph on the 35 mph road, according to police documents.

"People don't think it, but we give them breaks," Kochen said, adding that ticket money goes to the city's general fund, not the Police Department. "We would never do anything just to generate revenue."

A speed monitor trailer stood in the median of Keystone Road one day last week, flashing speeds as cars headed west toward U.S. 19. Hundreds of yards back, Officer Mike Roque faced east in the hot afternoon sun and peered through a laser gun used to detect the speed a car is traveling.

He aimed at a green Ford Mustang with four passengers and the top down. He aligned the laser with the car's front bumper. A number popped up on the screen.

"Sixty," he read as the driver continued past. "I knew it."

The next one, a Ford Focus. The driver tapped his brakes.

"Fifty-five."

He aimed again. "Forty-eight."

"Oh, this one is not so bad," he said of a black pickup truck with its windows down. The man was on his cellphone.

"Forty-three."

"It's amazing," he said. "It's like they don't even see me."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or (727)-445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters or mail letters to 1130 Cleveland St., Suite 100A, Clearwater, FL 33755.

Drivers racking up speeding tickets on new Keystone Road 08/13/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:03pm]
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