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U.S. 19 bridge work disrupts traffic in Clearwater

Crews work early Tuesday on the overpass of U.S. 19 at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, one of the county’s busiest intersections. 

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Crews work early Tuesday on the overpass of U.S. 19 at Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, one of the county’s busiest intersections. 

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 dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Getting around

Because of bridge construction, the intersection of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard at U.S. 19 will close entirely from 7 p.m. today to 6 a.m. Friday. Here is how traffic will be detoured:

• Westbound Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard motorists will turn north at the frontage road to Drew Street, go west to Belcher Road and south to Gulf-to-Bay. Then they'll be able to go east or west on Gulf-to-Bay, depending on their intended destination. They will go eastbound on Gulf-to-Bay to get back to southbound U.S. 19.

• Eastbound Gulf-to-Bay traffic will turn south on Bypass Drive, east on Druid Road to U.S. 19, then south to the new U-turn just south of Nursery Road to go back north to Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

U.S. 19 bridge work disrupts traffic in Clearwater 04/03/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 8:46pm]
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