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Plan in works to reduce Patricia Avenue accidents

City officials are drafting a $2.5-million to $3-million plan to widen and improve Patricia Avenue, a busy two-lane road with an unusually high number of car accidents.

The 1.5-mile stretch of road between State Road 580 and Union Street will be reconstructed with a new center turn lane and improvements that should alleviate longtime flooding problems, said Robert Brotherton, Dunedin public works director.

Patricia Avenue has not had any significant improvements in more than 20 years. The City Commission voted Thursday to hire an engineering company to create the preliminary road design. Construction will begin late next year.

"It's going to be a pretty good size (project)," Brotherton said.

Patricia Avenue is lined with homes, shopping plazas and free-standing businesses, most of them small, family-owned places including hair salons, restaurants and doctor's offices. Also on the road is the city's largest employer, Nielsen Media Research, and entrances to Dunedin Middle School at the corner of Union and Patricia. In Clearwater, Patricia Avenue becomes Highland Avenue.

"It's very busy," Brotherton said. "There's a lot of volume of traffic. It's a north-south alternative, and it's access to a lot of subdivisions. There's a lot of driveways."

Because the road has no center turn lane, there are a high number of accidents _ particularly rear-end collisions _ for the short stretch of road, said Ron Winter, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation. From 1995 through 1997, the average number of accidents was 32 a year on Patricia Avenue, most of which involved cars hit from behind while waiting to turn.

"In this case, you have another north-south route as an alternative to Alt. 19 or U.S. 19 that really isn't built to accommodate the traffic using it," Winter said.

The DOT is providing the city with a $1.2-million grant for the Patricia Avenue reconstruction through a state safety program. The DOT expects the accident rate to drop by 25 percent after the center lane is added, Winter said.

The city will pay for the improvements to Patricia Avenue's drainage system. Heavy rains frequently leave sections of the road flooded. The road was built many years ago without modern drainage, Brotherton said.

"It's a big problem," Brotherton said. "There's just no place for the water to go."

The road work will take from nine months to a year. When it is done, Patricia Avenue will be configured like Highland Avenue in Clearwater.