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Tyrone overpass may be on way out

The Tyrone Boulevard overpass's days may be numbered.

Built years ago to fly over the old Seaboard railroad, the overpass could be demolished as part of improvements to Tyrone, among the city's most heavily traveled roads.

"It's pretty old and definitely in need of repair," said Irwin Prescott, a Florida Department of Transportation project manager. The DOT is about to hire a consultant to look at the overpass, which leapfrogs the Pinellas Trail at 71st Street N. The trail was built on the old railroad bed.

St. Petersburg City Council member Bob Kersteen said last week the overpass is scheduled to be demolished by 2001 or 2002.

"It looks like it's coming out. I don't know what we can do about it," Kersteen said during a Thursday evening meeting of the Tyrone area traffic task force.

"The overpass may be nearing the end of its useful life. It may have to be coming down or rebuilt," county planner Richard Stiles said at the same meeting.

But transportation officials say plans are not definite and include several options.

Possibilities include keeping the overpass as is, remodeling it, tearing it down and making the roadway level while raising the Pinellas Trail over Tyrone Boulevard, or routing trail users under the boulevard.

"Nothing's certain," said Brian Smith, Pinellas County planning director.

Kersteen, meanwhile, said he wants to get the city's traffic engineering department involved to make sure whatever happens "is good for the area."

Said Prescott: "We'll work with the community. We'll do the right thing, whatever the right thing is."

The overpass issue surfaced during a town meeting of the Tyrone traffic task force, formed to recommend solutions to the area's ever-growing traffic concerns.

The worries aren't new. Newspaper stories from 20 years ago were reporting the activities of an advisory committee studying Tyrone traffic problems.

Recent traffic-generating commercial growth along the boulevard, such as restaurants and retail stores, has prompted more intense concern. According to transportation planners, segments of Tyrone Boulevard are rated at some of the lowest service levels.

The task force looked at congestion, problems on residential streets and ways to improve alternate modes of transportation, including bicycles, buses or walking.

"I hardly ever see anyone riding a bike in the Tyrone area," noted city planner Thomas Whalen Someone in the audience quickly replied, ". . . unless they're nuts." It sparked appreciative laughter from the crowd of about 50.

A number of proposals emerged. Along with public comments, they will be compiled into a report for the City Council, which eventually could take action on some of the ideas.

City traffic engineer Angelo Rao emphasized that none of the ideas is written in stone. "Absolutely nothing," he said. "Not one word has been approved."

Among the more striking ideas:

A citywide speed limit of 25 mph on local streets, defined as streets through residential areas that are not major "collector" or "arterial" roads.

Lengthening some through-traffic lanes and turn lanes on Tyrone Boulevard.

Installing more pedestrian islands and user-operated crossing signals on Tyrone.

Installing more curb ramps for wheelchairs.

Developing a bicycle plan for the Tyrone area that would include additional areas designated for biking and more racks in commercial areas.

Building sidewalks in several new locations.

Pushing for adequate mass transit staging and circulation at Tyrone Square Mall, and encouraging better bus service to movie theaters.

Developing a procedure to install "traffic-calming" devices on neighborhood streets, some of which have traffic counts of up to 5,000 vehicles daily, said task force member Steve Plice.

Calming devices include speed "platforms" or "plateaus," which are thought to discourage motorists from using residential streets as shortcuts or alternatives to driving main roads.

"We didn't find anyone who felt there were too few cars on the street in front of their house. We didn't find anyone who thought the cars in front of their house were going too slow," Plice said.

A draft report of the task force's work is expected to be finished in about two months.

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