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Store brings traffic worries

As if the roads near the proposed Home Depot store in Seminole are not busy enough, an extra 2,200 cars a day are expected to hit the streets for a trip to the home improvement store when it opens.

Another 425 cars will come to a restaurant planned for the Home Depot site each day, according to projections in a transportation analysis prepared for the fix-it-yourself chain.

"The traffic is just incredible now," Seminole resident Kathy Ross said. "When they put that store in there, it's going to be scary."

Nearly 50,000 cars already traverse the stretch of Park Boulevard between Seminole Boulevard and Starkey Road daily. That's the part of Park Boulevard where Home Depot will be built.

City Manager Frank Edmunds said he worries the number of accidents will increase at the crossing of Park and Seminole boulevards once the store opens. In 1997, there were 72 accidents at the intersection.

But county planners and engineers say the roads can handle the extra traffic, especially if a stoplight is installed at the store entrance on Park Boulevard. A signal cannot be approved until after the store opens.

Still, "I don't think the traffic headaches are going to be substantial once people find the way in and out that they want to go," said Ray Reyburn, an engineering supervisor in the county's Public Works Department.

During the afternoon rush hour, an extra 170 cars are expected to be on the road because of Home Depot and the proposed restaurant.

But as bad as the numbers may sound to drivers, they don't alarm county engineers.

"One hundred and seventy cars, when you compare it to a roadway that has 42,000 cars a day on it, isn't a lot of cars," said county engineering specialist John Amiro.

But for those who drive Park and Seminole boulevards regularly, the prospect of any additional cars cramming the corridors is enough to make them reach for an aspirin bottle.

"You know as well as I do that Home Depot stays busy, so I can't imagine it not causing more problems," said Ross, who drives past the store site on her way to work.

A representative from Lincks & Associates, which prepared the transportation study, did not return a call for comment. A representative of Avid Engineering, which is preparing site plans for Home Depot, said he could not comment.

He referred questions to Bill Oswell of the Atlanta planning company Greenburg Farrow. Oswell did not return a call for comment.

Ross complains that it takes 30 to 45 minutes to drive 8 miles down Park Boulevard from her Seminole home to her job in Pinellas Park.

"That's ridiculous to go 8 miles," Ross said.

She figures a stoplight would make things worse. But Reyburn, the engineering supervisor, said regulating the traffic flow should help.

It could take as long as 18 months for a light to be installed, however. And there's no guarantee one will ever be put in.

"We do not just throw up a signal willy-nilly," said Winston Needham, an engineering specialist in the county's traffic engineering department.

For the county to approve a light, Home Depot will have to show, through car counts and accident reports, that one is needed.

In 1997, there were 42 accidents on the stretch of Park Boulevard from Seminole Boulevard to Jesse's Seafood House, which is just east of the store site.

Celeste Smith has seen more than her share of crashes in front of Rube's, a restaurant across Park Boulevard from the Home Depot site.

"It becomes a little bit of a joke: "What time shall I call 911 today?'

" said Smith, a hostess.

Shards of glass are common in the median opening that allows drivers to turn left into Rube's from Park Boulevard. Smith won't use the opening.

Instead, she drives past Rube's to a spot near Jesse's. There, she makes a U-turn and swings back to Rube's and her front-row view of the congestion.

"It seems to be getting worse accident-wise," she said.

Drivers will have a choice of entering Home Depot from a front entrance off Park Boulevard or a back entrance off 70th Avenue. More than half the motorists are expected to use the Park Boulevard entrance.

Home Depot plans to have 70th Avenue widened and repaved to better accommodate the cars that use that entry. There is a traffic signal at Seminole Boulevard and 70th Avenue, which is south of Park Boulevard.

By 2001, the county should begin improvements to the intersection of Park and Seminole boulevards, including the addition of left-turn lanes on Seminole Boulevard.

A March memo from Lincks & Associates to city engineer George Kingsbury says the roads have "sufficient capacity" to handle the extra traffic created by Home Depot and the restaurant.

But Ross, the Seminole resident, is skeptical.

"It's going to be dangerous," she said. "I don't care what anybody says."

A look at traffic conditions

Questions are being raised about how the new Home Depot store slated for construction south of Lake Seminole will affect traffic on surrounding roads. Here is how the current situation looks. The figures in the boxes represent the number of vehicles passing through each section of road per day. The grade letters are assigned to traffic conditions, with A being good and F worst.