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State considers using rail corridor for road

A potential solution to traffic problems on Alt. U.S. 19 eventually could jeopardize part of the Pinellas Trail. An ongoing preliminary study by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) evaluates various options for expanding the road from Largo to where it meets U.S. 19 in Pasco County, said David Twiddy, DOT's district engineer on the study.

One of those options is to use the abandoned right of way for the CSX railroad corridor, which is where the next phase of the recreational trail is planned.

There also are other options, Twiddy said, and engineers are studying the pros and cons of each.

"One of the things we're looking at is can we use the railroad corridor and still provide adequate bicycle provisions?" he said.

The study, he said, will address whether to put the entire expanded road or one leg of it there and what impact it would have on the trail and the people who use it.

Twiddy said they also will see if there will be enough room to put the trail next to the road.

However, he said, the state also is studying using Douglas Avenue as a corridor and looking at using U.S. Alt. 19 as one three-lane leg and another corridor as another three-lane leg.

"Right now this is a lower priority for Pinellas," Twiddy said. "We don't have any funds appropriated for it in the next five years."

Twiddy said he is not sure when there will be money. The study will be completed this year so the department will have it available if it is needed.

Meanwhile, plans for putting the trail along the railroad corridor continue.

The next phase, from Taylor Park in Largo to Nebraska Avenue in Palm Harbor, will be let out to bid soon, said Hugh Pascoe, the county's transportation planning administrator. That portion should be completed by 1992, he said.

Pascoe said the DOT's preliminary look at the railroad right of way for a six-lane highway does not greatly concern him since the state is looking at a number of options.

Plus, he said, once the trail is in, it will be hard to justify taking it out or moving it.

"It is one of the most strongly and emotionally supported projects we have," Pascoe said. "That is obviously going to affect the state's decision-making process. Is there an acceptable length of time to put in a trail and rip it up? I don't think so. Once it is in, the citizens are not going to want it taken out."

Pascoe said he understands why the state has to look at the railroad as an option _ it's all part of road planning in a county that is so overdeveloped.

However, the railroad right of way was approved as a recreation trail because the state had said the best use of it would be a mass transit monorail, Pascoe said.

A recreational trail can accommodate a monorail, but not a six-lane highway, he said.

Scott Daniels, vice president of Pinellas Trails Inc., said he, too, understands why the state must consider the corridor as an option but says that would not be acceptable.

"I don't think they've really evaluated the situation because it's obvious by the overwhelming support for the trail that that will not work," Daniels said. "It's not a viable alternative. We think the north part of the county is the most beautiful area for the trail."

Daniels said he thinks the trail could not be compatible with a six-lane highway or even a three-lane leg.

"It would meet with very stiff opposition," he said. "I think they'll find a more realistic route."

Twiddy said the preliminary study, which is nowhere near completion, also will have to determine the noise impact that traffic would have on the neighborhoods along the way.

One option to buffer the neighborhoods from noise would be to build walls between the roadway and property, but he is not sure that would be the best solution.