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Sinkhole snarls traffic to Clearwater Beach

Traffic was snarled on Memorial Causeway and in downtown Clearwater for several hours after this semi’s wheel dropped into a hole on Chestnut Street.

BILL SERNE | Times

Traffic was snarled on Memorial Causeway and in downtown Clearwater for several hours after this semi’s wheel dropped into a hole on Chestnut Street.

With spring breakers starting to crowd Clearwater Beach, a semitrailer truck got stuck in a sinkhole on a main route from the beach Monday, backing up traffic all the way to the roundabout.

The trucker was going east on Chestnut Street near Myrtle Avenue when the semi's front wheel got lodged in the hole around 2 p.m.

The hole was caused by the collapse of an underground clay pipe, Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marian Scorza said.

All four lanes of Chestnut were blocked while a crane was brought in to remove the truck, Scorza said.

Two lanes reopened around 6 p.m., but it was unknown Monday night how long it would take to repair the road or whether any lanes would still be closed today, Scorza said.

The hole snarled traffic on the Memorial Causeway and in downtown Clearwater for several hours. Chestnut Street carries as average of more than 14,000 cars and trucks a day at the spot where the sinkhole occurred.

But by 6:15 p.m., cars were zipping eastward on Chestnut as an officer and two police volunteers helped direct what was once standstill traffic.

"It's lucky really that no one was hurt and that the truck driver was going slow, because if he was really cruising, there's no telling what would have happened," said Bill Megnin, who manages the Ace Cut Rate liquor store nearby.

City Manager Bill Horne said the sinkhole measured 4 feet by 3 feet. He said no injuries were reported.

Mayor Frank Hibbard said detour signs would quickly be put up. He said the problem wouldn't stop people from visiting Clearwater Beach at one of the busiest times of the year.

"It's not going to be a problem. We'll deal with it. It will be fixed," Hibbard said. "And, as always, Clearwater Beach is open for business."

Both Horne and the mayor encouraged motorists to continue using the Memorial Causeway, saying that they could take detours near Fort Harrison after they get over the bridge.

"There are plenty of alternative routes," Hibbard said.

Horne said the detours may cause a bit of confusion among tourists but didn't think it would dissuade them from visiting the beach.

"The local people will be delayed slightly, but they'll adapt quicker because they know the area," Horne said. "Our visitors will struggle a bit to get to the eastern part of the city, but I think the detours will help them and this shouldn't be a problem."

Times staff writer Carrie Weimar contributed to this report. Mike Donila can be reached at mdonila@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Sinkhole snarls traffic to Clearwater Beach 03/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 8:27pm]
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