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Waterline backs up work on new road

When Madge Rodemeyer's employees show up for work late saying they have been stuck in traffic, she knows it's not just an excuse.

She only needs to look out the window.

The Department of Transportation has been working on the new State Road 580 in front of Charlie Toona's Seafood Cantina since August 1995.

Work on the $7.3-million road and bridge widening project was supposed to be completed this week. However, a problem with a waterline has pushed the completion date back to August.

The contractor, Overstreet Paving of Largo, had to return a faulty water main line to its manufacturer, according to DOT spokeswoman Leo Folsom.

"They had some problems with the actual waterline," Folsom said. "It had to be replaced."

The DOT can't work on the bridge until water lines for the city of St. Petersburg are moved and replaced. The lines now run under the bridge but are being replaced with above-ground lines alongside the bridge.

The two-lane bridge was built in the 1920s, said Oldsmar Public Works Director Fred Schildhauer. It will be upgraded and expanded to four lanes.

The new road will link Tampa Road to the intersection of St. Petersburg Drive and Forest Lakes Boulevard just before the four-lane bridge leading to Safety Harbor. Both ends of the road will have traffic lights.

Most of the work on the road is finished, Folsom said. Workers are replacing the waterlines, then will expand the bridge.

Rodemeyer, the manager of Charlie Toona's, says the restaurant will likely benefit from the project when it is done. The restaurant is between the bay and St. Petersburg Drive.

In the meantime, she said, the restaurant has struggled with the traffic that snarls the intersection of St. Petersburg Drive and Forest Lakes Boulevard.

"It's been pretty horrific, especially around 5 p.m.," she said. "It has been affecting business for over a year."

Lunch and early dinner customers avoid the restaurant, she said, because they can't get through the traffic. And even employees who live nearby are sometimes late, she said.

"Some of them live in Oldsmar, and they're stuck in traffic," she said.

The construction is a daily topic of discussion at Beerbellies, the bar next to Charlie Toona's, owner Jim Shemwell said.

"Every day, "When is that road going to be finished and how is traffic is going to be when it is?'

" Shemwell said.

Shemwell travels to work on Forest Lakes Boulevard from Tampa Road. He said he has sat at Forest Lakes and St. Petersburg Drive for as long as 10 minutes trying to turn left to his bar. Traffic on St. Petersburg Drive doesn't yield and there are no signs at the intersection.

"It's a traffic nightmare," he said. "Especially in the morning and evening here, it's one big, solid traffic jam."

The state decided to build the new road because St. Petersburg Drive has too many curves and too much development to be widened, said Oldsmar Public Works Director Fred Schildhauer.