CLEARWATER — When heavy construction began on U.S. 19 at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard several years ago, commuters learned to expect stalled traffic and lane changes at one of the county's busiest intersections.
This week, the next leg of the $112 million project commenced. Cranes placed the first steel girders for a new bridge over Gulf-to-Bay.
But the end isn't exactly near. The massive U.S. 19 project is scheduled to wrap up by summer 2015, said Florida Department of Transportation representative Kris Carson.
Meanwhile, employees at local hotels and restaurants are groaning about longer commutes, loud noises and shrinking business.
"It's a pain in the butt," said Donald Treadway, director of sales at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites at 2580 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. at the epicenter of the construction. "It's ridiculous. It's hurting our business."
The Clearwater hotel was forced to lower room rates because of the project, Treadway said. Staying at the location costs about $100 per night, while identical lodgings in St. Petersburg and Tampa charge about $20 more.
"It's hard for guests to get in," he said. "We're ready for this to end."
The roadwork started in November 2009 with the goals of removing traffic signals on U.S. 19 between Gulf-to-Bay and Whitney Road, constructing two new interchanges at Seville Boulevard and Belleair Road, and completely rebuilding the interchange at U.S. 19 and Gulf-to-Bay. Periodic road closings and lane shifts have plagued drivers since.
At Perkins restaurant, open 24 hours at 2626 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., employees complain of car horns and construction clanking.
"When you walk outside, it can be very loud," associate manager Treana Smith said. "And of course it takes longer to get to work."
However, she said, business has been consistent with that of years past. People still come in the usual droves for pancakes, burgers and pie.
Ray Koi, manager of the Wing House at 2640 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., said his drive from Dunedin, which once took about 10 minutes, is now a 30-minute hassle. Employees often arrive late, he said, citing unusually bad traffic. But patrons keep the house full most nights of the week, Koi said.
"Nothing stops our customers," he said. "They'd drive through the snow."
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.