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Officials questioning $60,000 overpass sign

A proposal to paint a mural on the U.S. 19 overpass above Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard encounters resistance.

City administrators want to paint a mural on the U.S. 19 overpass above Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard as part of efforts to beautify the road, but some city commissioners are questioning the $60,901 expense.

The project would add a stripe of green-blue paint on the railing of the overpass, with the word "Clearwater" in blue floating on waves above three lanes of westbound traffic. The city's name would be painted to the right of the four traffic lights on the overpass.

But the painting might not have a very long life.

The overpass that would bear the simple welcome mural is scheduled to be rebuilt and widened to add more lanes, with work starting as early as 2007. State officials have already budgeted $1.6-million for the design of the new overpass in 2004 and 2005.

After that, the rule of thumb is that projects take up to two years to acquire land and two years for construction, said Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Ron Winter.

City commissioners reviewed the city's mural plans at a Monday workshop and questioned whether it would make sense to paint on an overpass that could be rebuilt so soon.

"It is something I have to consider to spend that kind of money for a six-year length of time on a sign," Commissioner Ed Hooper said.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the overpass artwork at its regular Thursday meeting.

Commissioners also asked City Manager Mike Roberto and his staff Monday whether the mural might be too expensive to maintain.

"I just feel it's an expense that's going to be somewhat exorbitant in the years ahead," Commissioner J.B. Johnson said, although no estimate on maintenance costs was available.

Johnson has recommended that the city should instead spend its money to install a better welcome sign closer to the true eastern entrance of the city off the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Roberto argued that the overpass painting will help beautify Gulf-to-Bay, where the city has committed about $5-million for new landscaping, traffic signals, street signs and relocating a portion of the utility lines.

Roberto said the site of the painting at the U.S. 19 overpass would be at the beginning of the city's beautification project, where medians begin to have palm trees and flowers planted in them.

But Commissioner Ed Hart said the sign might only increase visual clutter along Gulf-to-Bay. While encouraging billboards and other old signs to be taken down, Hart said, "I'm not sure we should be painting a new one."

Both Hooper and Mayor Brian Aungst said they were undecided about whether they would support the painting.

Commissioner Bob Clark wasn't sure he liked the word "Clearwater" being scrunched up on one side of the traffic lights.

The original proposal was to have the word stretched out across the entire wall of the overpass, but state rules don't allow that design because it might distract motorists from the traffic signals.

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