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Bayside bridge gets rave reviews

Jackie Ungerleider is not a bridge person.

"I avoid bridges at all costs," she said.

But when the Bayside Bridge in mid-Pinellas County opened June 2, the thought of saving time and money was appealing enough to overcome her fear. Ungerleider, who lives in west Pasco and works in Pinellas Park, gave it a try.

"It was neat," she said. "It was wide enough and roomy enough so that I won't feel like I'll go over the edge."

The more practical considerations turned her into a true believer. She lives in Riverside Village near State Road 54 and Little Road and has been commuting to her job with Honeywell in Pinellas Park for nearly 20 years.

"It's beautiful," Ungerleider said. "It saves me about 10 to 15 minutes. More important than the time, though, is that it's about four miles (less to travel) which, times five days a week, saves me gas money."

Several Pasco County residents who commute to Pinellas County cited similar reasons for using the Bayside Bridge. They were responding to an item in the Pasco Times asking for commuters' stories.

Jack Wood, who lives in Veterans Village and works in a Pinellas Park print shop, said the bridge is nothing less than a dream come true.

"Boy, I've been waiting for them to open," he said. "I've been dying for them to open. It's been super."

Wood, 36, lives near State Road 54 and Seven Springs Boulevard. He works at Sun 'N Fun Printing Co., near 49th Street and 122th Avenue N, in Pinellas Park.

Before the Bayside Bridge opened, he would take Seven Springs Boulevard into Pinellas County, where it becomes East Lake Road. After several more miles, it becomes McMullen-Booth Road, which he would take to Drew Street in Clearwater. He would then cut across Drew and take U.S. 19 to Ulmerton Road and Ulmerton to 49th Street, for a total of about 50 minutes on the road.

The new bridge allows him to make "a straight shot," he said, going from his home to his job in about 35 minutes.

"I'm going to start sleeping in in the morning," Wood joked.

Many spoke of the psychological benefits to not driving on U.S. 19.

"It certainly is less aggravation," said Eric Alvarez, who lives near Trouble Creek and Rowan roads and works as a department store security manager at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg.

"I'm not one of those crazy drivers," he said. "I just like to take it slowly and carefully with less stress."

"The bridge itself is wonderful," said Susan Polito, who lives near the Mitchell Bypass and works for a Pinellas Park insurance agency. She said she does not really expect to save much time until the widening of McMullen-Booth Road, but the ride is enjoyable nonetheless.

"It's less stressful because you're moving, instead of sitting at all those lights," she said.

"I'm glad they did it," said Onan Coca, 33, who lives near State Road 54 and Little Road and works at Florida Power Corp. in St. Petersburg. "It cuts down my driving time about five minutes. I don't have to deal with . . . the traffic lights."

Not everyone was enthusiastic.

"I thought this bridge would help, but it's not helping me out at all," said Frank Ingalls, who lives in Veterans Village and works at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in St. Petersburg. "There ain't really much of a difference."

But John Cowan likes it, and he has the longest drive of all, from his home near Ridgewood High School to his job as the manager of a body shop at a Toyota dealership in south Sarasota.

"I'm glad it's open," he said. "It's just pretty much a straight shot. . . . I knew it would cut out some of my driving, and I do have a drive."