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Beach bridge gets "speed trap' label

Clearwater Beach has gotten itself some national attention. But not in the tourist-attracting way it might want.

For the readers of SELF magazine across the country, Clearwater Beach is now known as one of the nation's top speed traps.

In the magazine's February issue, Clearwater Beach was listed as one of 17 speed traps in a feature called "Life in the Fast Lane."

"Clip and carry SELF's guide to America's traffic ticket hot spots," the article says. "Indicated on our map are the states and routes preferred by cops who aren't sympathetic to even the tiniest infractions.

"Avoid them for your own sake _ and for your wallet's."

The article calls Clearwater Beach's hot spot the "Causeway Bridge" on State Road 60.

Of course, folks around here know there's no such thing on Clearwater Beach and figure the magazine gurus must be talking about that infamous bridge _ the Clearwater Pass Bridge _ that connects Clearwater Beach and Sand Key.

"It's understandable, they're probably Yankees," said Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor. "We do write a large number of speeding tickets there, but it is hardly a speed trap."

The 15-mph speed limit is there to keep the 28-year-old damaged drawbridge from suffering further erosion before it is replaced.

"There are flashing warning lights, no less than 42 speed limit signs and rumble strips across the road," he said. "If you can't see all that, you probably don't have the legal sight to be driving."

But Robert E. Jones, president of JP Hotels, which runs the Holiday Inns, sees it differently.

"This dubious distinction strikes me as appalling for a community that depends on tourism for its bread and butter," he said in a letter to the Times. "Indeed, the "bad press' in SELF thwarts the positive efforts that I, and every other hospitality and travel industry employee, make when we represent our community to potential customers as a warm and friendly vacation paradise."

But Jones does not blame the magazine as much as he blames the city of Clearwater and its Police Department.

Jones said he understands the speed limit is for the safety of the drivers but he said he thinks too many visitors leave Clearwater with tickets.

"Imagine the devastating effect if numbers of people are sent home feeling victimized by speed traps," he writes.

Shelor begs to differ.

If drivers would read the abundant signs, they would not speed and therefore would not get tickets, he said.

"Some people don't think the speed limit applies to them," he said.

In a two-week period in January, Clearwater police wrote 51 tickets on the bridge and 30 of those were to visitors from out of state.

"Locally, this is not a new story," Shelor said. "Right or wrong, the press has covered this and whether they call it a speed trap or not, people know it's there."