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Alderman Road dispute driven toward court

Four years after the first contract to improve Alderman Road, about the only thing that has changed is the cost. The county is unshakable in its commitment to expand the road from two to four lanes. Residents, many of whom think the idea is ridiculous, are still mad.

As the projected cost continues to rise, the dispute heads to its probable finish in court.

Records show the county may have to buy extra land to widen the road, adding thousands to the $750,000 the county already has spent on right-of-way acquisition. At least 63 landowners have not agreed to sell the county slivers of their property or give temporary use of it during construction.

Meanwhile, other costs are rising. The county has spent $50,000 more than orginally budgeted to design the road, for a total of $180,000.

Construction is estimated to cost $4.5-million, but the state recently told the county it may require extra work at the U.S. 19 and Alderman Road intersection, furthering increasing the cost.

Meanwhile, Alderman Road remains as is, 2 miles of rolling road through some of the most expensive residential real estate in North Pinellas.

"In general, the homeowners are against the four lanes, although not improvements for safety, like some hill-leveling and turn lanes," said Timothy Kerwin, who heads Concerned Citizens for Alderman Road.

This is the only point upon which county officials and opponents agree _ the road needs help. Its hills, stop signs and lack of turn lanes make driving dangerous. It has no sidewalks or paved shoulders, so walking or riding a bicycle is hazardous.

But when the county proposed more than four years ago to widen Alderman, the news was received with outrage. Residents accused the county of wanting to destroy their rural, tree-lined road for no good reason.

"It's 2 miles to nowhere," Kerwin likes to say.

The road connects Alt. U.S. 19 to U.S. 19, however. County engineers say traffic counts and projections show the road won't be able to handle traffic in the future. And, they say, although a two-lane divided road _ one lane in each direction, with turn lanes where needed _ would work now, the road someday will need to be four lanes.

It makes sense to build four lanes today, especially since the cost isn't much more than a two-lane divided road, county officials say.

Of course, as is the case with many things, that's easier said than done.

Kerwin has accumulated 10 boxes of material on Alderman Road. He and his group have hired engineers and lawyers for the fight. Kerwin said last week he has traffic counts, analysis of the demand on the current road, and computer models projecting future use. He said his group has spent about $145,000.

He expects the dispute to end up in court, as does the county.

Dennis Simpson, with the Pinellas engineering department, said the county may have to take some landowners to court to get part of their property for the widened road.

The county can expect a fight. All that material the Concerned Citizens for Alderman Road has proves a two-lane road with turn lanes is all Alderman needs, said Kerwin, a developer who lives among the trees and large lots north of Alderman Road.

The opponents are preparing for the county to ask a judge to force a landowner to sell property at a reasonable cost.

Most homeowners would lose only 5 feet or so along the edge of their property, but people such as Kerwin and five of his neighbors could lose 35 feet.

Kerwin expects to win _ in which case, he said, he will seek to make the county liable for the cost of opposition.

Nonetheless, the county plans to do some work on Alderman in coming months, said Simpson, of the county engineering department.

A drainage project at Alt. U.S. 19 and Alderman Road will mean the intersection will be torn up. When it is re-built, Simpson said, the county plans to install another turn lane on Alderman, and widen it to four lanes for several hundred feet.

The county hoped to widen Alderman at its intersection with U.S. 19 because a Wal-Mart discount department store is scheduled to open later this year.

But the state Department of Transportation recently said the Wal-Mart may generate so much traffic that dual turn lanes from northbound U.S. 19 onto Alderman Road may be needed.

The delays have frustrated Kerwin and other homeowners along Alderman Road, but they think the dispute is in its final round.

"We are not in this for the dollars the county has offered for our land," Kerwin said. "We just don't want the road overdeveloped."