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Crystal Beach safe access road named for activist

Before his death last year, retired engineer Robert Bruce worked hard to see his idea come to fruition.

Robert Bruce sketched plans, attended countless meetings and tirelessly circulated petitions to create a safer road out of this small gulfside community.

Now, after years of community effort, the Pinellas County Commission has approved spending $264,000 to build a short road that will allow residents to avoid treacherous left turns onto busy Alt. U.S. 19 from Crystal Beach Avenue.

The work is expected to be completed within a few months. Bruce, however, will not see the road he worked so hard to build. The 75-year-old community activist died in July 1999 after suffering a brain tumor.

But his efforts will not be forgotten. The road will bear his name: Bruce Lane.

Reached at her summer home in Michigan, Bruce's wife, Dorothy, said she was pleased to hear the project is finally getting off the ground and was honored that residents decided to recognize her husband's efforts with the naming of the road.

"I was very touched by it, and my family was, too," she said. "I think it's well deserved."

Community efforts to eliminate white-knuckle turns onto Alt. 19 date back at least to 1993.

Initially, Crystal Beach residents sought a traffic light at Crystal Beach Avenue and Alt. U.S. 19. But a state traffic study determined a traffic light wasn't warranted and would be too close to the Alderman Road signal, said Jim Pleso, a county public-works engineering specialist.

Then Crystal Beach residents suggested creating an access road that would allow residents leaving Crystal Beach to go from Crystal Beach Avenue to Hanby Street to Avery Avenue and then to what would become Bruce Lane.

County Administrator Fred Marquis said the county was reluctant to send traffic onto Avery Road, a small residential street, unless all the residents there agreed to the project. So Robert Bruce and others went door-to-door and got signatures from virtually every Avery Avenue resident in favor of the project.

A retired city engineer from East Lansing, Mich., Bruce also provided the county with sketch proposals.

"Bob went to all the meetings, and believe me, there were tons of them," Mrs. Bruce said. "There were times they (county officials) would say "No way,' and he'd keep on going."

Catherine Barnard, secretary of the Crystal Beach community association, credited Bruce with making the project happen.

"He's really the fellow who did all the work with the county to get them to agree to do this," Barnard said.

Barnard said residents are thrilled the project is finally moving forward.

"It is a very treacherous thing to try to make a left turn onto Alt. U.S. 19 from Crystal Beach Avenue," she said. "Often, the traffic at rush hour is bumper-to-bumper. I actually timed it once and it was over eight minutes. This is a very needed thing."

The 300-foot road will connect Avery Avenue north to the parking lot at the Palm Harbor Medical Arts complex, which is at Alderman Road and Alt. 19. Bruce Lane will be one-way for northbound traffic only.

To make way for the road, the county bought two lots abutting the alley. Last year, someone bought the concrete block, two-bedroom home on one of the lots and moved it to a vacant lot in Crystal Beach.

The area around Bruce Lane is swampy enough to need a retaining wall, and the county also will resurface Avery and Hanby, Pleso said.

Mrs. Bruce said she's proud of her husband's legacy.

"If you lived there _ and you should, because it's a delightful place to live _ you'd realize what an important thing this is," she said. "Trying to get out of Crystal Beach is murder."