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ABR gets its U.S. 19 light for a short time

ABR Information Services asked for the light more than two years ago. Now, two months before the company moves, its request comes through.

ABR Information Services is finally getting the traffic light it asked for in front of its U.S. 19 office building _ two months before employees relocate to an office in St. Petersburg.

The light in front of the building at 31975 U.S. 19 N was installed last week although it will not be operational for at least another week or two. Even then, the light will operate only in the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 during the evening rush hour.

The company requested a traffic light more than two years ago to help its 600 employees get in and out of the complex just south of Tampa Road. Those employees will begin moving to a newly renovated office in St. Petersburg in April.

"Better late than never," said ABR founder James MacDougald, who hired Pinellas County sheriff's deputies to help his employees out of the parking lot between 5:15 and 6:15 p.m. on weekdays.

"They've done a tremendous job. But we've always been concerned about them because jumping in front of traffic to stop it is not my idea of a smart thing to do," MacDougald said. "We're very happy the light will do the job in place of the people."

The Florida Department of Transportation originally rejected ABR's requests for a light in front of its building, saying it would disrupt traffic flow between Curlew and Tampa roads. ABR appealed to state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who in May 1998 convinced the DOT to allow the part-time light.

A shortage of suppliers for the mast-arm style light, which is more resistant to hurricanes, may have contributed to the ensuing 20-month delay, said Ken Jacobs, Pinellas County's traffic design manager.

The light must be synchronized with the signals at Curlew and Tampa roads before it is turned on.

ABR paid for the light, but the cost was not available Monday.

ABR was bought by Ceridian Corp. of Minneapolis in May and became a subsidiary called Ceridian Benefits Services.

The company announced in November that all of its north Pinellas employees, including 600 in the building south of Tampa Road and another 300 in an office north of Nebraska Avenue, would move to renovated offices in St. Petersburg between April and June.

The light will be turned off once the ABR building is empty, said DOT spokesman Ron Winter. If another division of Ceridian occupies the facility or another company buys the building, the new tenants would have to appeal to the DOT to activate the light again, Winter said.

"You can't just walk onto a state road and throw a switch," Winter said. "It may turn out that somebody else comes in there with just as much traffic who needs it."

Jacobs said he did not expect drivers to notice much of a difference once the light is activated.

"We hate disrupting traffic. But there's no other solution. People have to get home; they have to pick up their kids from day care," MacDougald said. "You just wouldn't be able to get out of the parking lot if you didn't stop the cars. It's just an endless stream of cars."

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