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Pretty view shouldn't spoil bridge plans

No one would want a high-level bridge in their front yard. So it's no surprise that the residents of the Pierce 100 condominium building on Clearwater's downtown waterfront are dismayed that the City Commission wants to put the new Memorial Causeway Bridge about 400 feet from their front door.

At its last meeting, the City Commission faced a difficult decision before an audience of Pierce 100 residents and their attorney. It needed to choose an alignment for the bridge so the city staff could begin planning the project.

The commission could choose to align the bridge with Pierce Boulevard, which would place the bridge closest to the Pierce 100 building. Or it could align the bridge with Drew Street, several hundred feet farther away than even the existing drawbridge that will be replaced by the new bridge.

Not surprisingly, the 200 condominium residents, who recently invested almost $4-million in an exterior refurbishing of their building and grounds, wanted the Drew Street alignment, or even preferred just repairing the old drawbridge.

But the commissioners gritted their teeth and did the best thing for Clearwater, unanimously choosing the Pierce Boulevard alignment. The heat from Pierce 100 residents isn't likely to cool in the weeks ahead, but commissioners should stick to their decision and let the staff complete a thorough study of the Pierce Boulevard alignment.

Clearwater needs a new high-level bridge to Clearwater Beach. The current drawbridge creates traffic backups, congests boat traffic, is expensive to maintain and is too narrow for easy passage of bicycles and pedestrians.

The Pierce Boulevard alignment has the most positives and the fewest negatives. It is the most natural alignment because most traffic to the beach flows west on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard (State Road 60) and Court Street, which then becomes Pierce Boulevard. The roads are wide enough to accommodate beach traffic comfortably.

Narrow Drew Street, on the other hand, would have to be widened, and homes and businesses along that corridor would be severely affected or even condemned for the widening project. Beach traffic would have to be rerouted somehow from Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard over to Drew _ no easy task _ and businesses along the current beach route would be hurt by the transfer of traffic to Drew.

The Pierce Boulevard alignment's negative impact would be far more limited.

Residents of the Pierce 100 building, which faces north and is built on a finger protruding into the Intracoastal Waterway, would have a high-rise bridge bisecting their view to the north.

Some residents say they also would suffer increased noise because the bridge will be 200 feet closer, though some of that feared impact could be offset by a reduction in start-and-stop traffic waiting for a drawbridge.

If the boat channel is moved westward for the new bridge, noise from boat motors also might be reduced for Pierce 100 residents.

Progress is seldom pain-free, and it isn't easy being the party that bears most of the pain. The city, as it studies the Pierce Boulevard alignment, should look for ways to reduce the impact on the condominium's residents, who have been good neighbors in downtown Clearwater.

But commissioners were right to avoid bringing greater pain to other areas of Clearwater just to preserve a view for the residents of one building.