Residents here are about to gain a big new amenity, thanks to the widening of Keystone Road.
That project includes connecting the Pinellas Trail, which extends down the west side of the county to St. Petersburg, to the East Lake Road corridor. When complete in about three years, people will be able to bike, run or walk from John Chesnut Sr. Park, at the south end of Lake Tarpon, to Tarpon Springs and points south.
Business interests think they'll benefit as well.
"When I first bought the shop in 1994, it (the connection) was already projected and I thought it would have been done by now," said Eddie Mullally, the owner of Neptune Cyclery, a bike shop along the Pinellas Trail in downtown Tarpon Springs. "What it will do is, it will bring all that East Lake, East Lake Woodlands, Lansbrook traffic over here safely and make this a destination riding point.
"It will bring a whole 'nother crowd to the trail. I think it's a great thing and I'm so glad."
Construction began July 12 to widen Keystone Road from two to four lanes from East Lake Road west to U.S. 19. The 3-mile, $32 million project is expected to be completed in summer 2013. The project will add another 3 miles to the Pinellas Trail, which currently ends just east of U.S. 19.
On the south side of Keystone Road, a 5-foot-wide sidewalk will be added to improve pedestrian traffic along the entire 3-mile corridor.
"It would have been very difficult to go east-west without this being part of the road project," said Brian Smith, Pinellas County's planning director. "This helped us connect the dot. A lot of people live on the east side of the trail and they are looking forward to it. They can take their bikes to Tarpon Springs."
Dennis Urban, 60, walks the trail when taking a break from his job on Live Oak Street.
"My wife and I use the trail a lot and we are looking forward to it," Urban said. "Keystone Road is long overdue for widening but once the trail opens up, we can bring our bikes for a great ride up to Tarpon Springs."
Businesses south of Tarpon Springs are also pleased to see the connection to the east side of U.S. 19.
"It's really cool," said Steve Pavlik, 25, who works at Sun West Cyclery, a Palm Harbor bike shop whose back bay door opens directly onto the trail. "That will definitely help us."
The first 5-mile section of the Pinellas Trail opened in 1990, connecting Taylor Park in Largo to Seminole Park in Seminole. Now 20 years later, there will be 50 miles of the trail once the East Lake connection is completed.
The ultimate plan is to have a 75-mile loop from the south end of the county to the northern end that residents can travel without a vehicle. An average of 90,000 people use some portion of the existing Pinellas Trail each month.
"We thought we were doing a recreation project but we found that two-thirds of the people were using the trail for other reasons such as shopping, getting to work and going to school," Smith said. "It's become a transportation facility for us."
Smith said the Pinellas Trail is now more than an amenity.
"It's a major feature," Smith said. "People travel from other parts of the country to go on the Pinellas Trail. Now, it's one of the major features of our county along with the beaches."
For Chris Walker, the use of the Pinellas Trail is part of his daily routine.
"I Rollerblade, I bike, I'm on this trail every day," said Walker, 46. "It's just a great thing that they are continuing to extend it. It's a great thing."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.