Thursday, April 19, 2018
Transportation

New truck turnaround off Ulmerton Road irritates residents, business

LARGO — The homeowner and the business owner stood staring at the odd-looking one-lane strip of fresh asphalt that loops around a retention pond alongside Ulmerton Road. It has no curb, no sidewalk and is just a few feet from neighboring homes.

The state of Florida calls it a "truck turnaround."

Neighbors, who are upset about this addition to their neighborhood, call it "the no-name street."

"It looks so weird. It's not right," said Frida Alipour, co-owner of Frida's Cafe & Bakery at 9700 Ulmerton Road. "And it's hurting our business."

The state is making significant changes as it widens Ulmerton Road east of Largo Mall. Some of those changes have nearby residents upset.

First, here's the big picture: Crews are widening Ulmerton from four to six lanes along a 1.5-mile section east of the mall. This is one piece of an ongoing effort to widen much of Ulmerton. This $9 million project started in 2012 and should be finished by summer 2015, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

With two traffic lanes being added to Ulmerton, there's less room for left-turn lanes in the center of the road. So FDOT decided to close a number of median openings. One of those was at 95th Street, where westbound cement mixing trucks and 18-wheelers used to make left turns to head south to a cement plant located just south of Ulmerton.

To enable trucks to get to the cement plant, FDOT is allowing them to turn left at a spot just to the west. That's where the "truck turnaround" comes in. It's a one-way, one-lane street between Madison and Washington avenues on the south side of Ulmerton. It allows westbound trucks to quickly loop back around onto Ulmerton and head east, where they can make a right turn into the plant.

This has neighbors in an uproar, especially in Grosse Pointe Estates, a community of 128 mobile homes along Washington Avenue that caters to seniors.

"You have to scratch your head," said longtime resident Gilles Deslauriers. "This is a residential neighborhood, and they're bringing big cement trucks and even 18-wheelers right through here."

Deslauriers complained to FDOT, which built the new road, and to Pinellas County, which approved it. He says the road isn't safe for pedestrians and that it violates FDOT's own standards because it has no sidewalk, no easements and no drainage.

The truck turnaround doesn't actually enter the mobile home park, but the park's residents say they still have to contend with it because they use Washington Avenue as an exit.

"Many of our residents are in their late 70s and will have to drive with these monster trucks in front of them or behind them," Deslauriers said.

FDOT responded that the new road does meet its standards.

"The pond turnaround was designed by the engineers to alleviate a potentially dangerous condition of large semi-trucks trying to make U-turns at Madison Avenue onto Ulmerton Road," FDOT project manager Julie Ostoki wrote in a letter to Deslauriers.

Grosse Pointe residents should have no reason to stop using Washington Avenue, she added: "Having large trucks either behind or ahead of them should not affect travel."

As for the lack of a sidewalk, she said, "This was intentional." Instead, crews installed a sidewalk on Ulmerton for pedestrians to use.

Deslauriers says walkers and skateboarders are using the new road anyway. FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson said crews are adding "no pedestrian" signs to the street.

The owners of Frida's Cafe & Bakery are protesting the truck turnaround, too.

FDOT closed several nearby median openings on Ulmerton, except for the one at Madison Avenue, next to Frida's. As a result, the cafe's owners say, trucks are lining up on Ulmerton in front of Frida's so they can turn left.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.

This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: Pinellas County, not Largo, approved a truck turnaround built by the Florida Department of Transportation off Ulmerton Road. A story in Wednesday's St. Pete Times was incorrect on this point.

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