For the dozens of businesses and countless commuters in mid Pinellas County who have suffered in the four years that U.S. 19 has been under construction, there finally is some good news. The state is now pledging nearly $5 million extra to ensure construction ends nine months quicker. The project would have been finished by now, but at least the end is in sight.
Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Clearwater last week to announce the acceleration, which came after lobbying by Republican state lawmakers from Clearwater, Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Ed Hooper, and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, among others. The work to turn 12 miles of U.S. 19 into a signal-free, limited-access highway was supposed to wrap up at the end of last year. But Department of Transportation staffers said a sinkhole, buried concrete and a creek have caused unforeseen delays and moved completion to the end of 2015.
With a modest additional $3.6 million investment, crews will now work around the clock and local noise ordinances have been set aside to allow the nighttime work. The contractor also stands to win $1.6 million by wrapping it up by March 2015. Some relief could come as early as October, when through-traffic on frontage roads will be shifted onto the new roadway. It's far from fast enough for those whose lives and businesses have been inconvenienced for four years, but at least this acknowledges their plight and moves a major project forward.