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Putting the rush back into road's rush hour

(ran PC edition)

Every day, Pat Verdon leaves his East Lake home about 6:45 a.m. and heads west to U.S. 19 to get to work.

McMullen-Booth Road, which is closer to his home, once was his preferred route to his job at Jabil Circuit. But in recent years he has discovered that U.S. 19 is surprisingly quicker, saving him 15 minutes of commuting time.

"It is actually ironic," said Verdon, 38, an electrical engineer. "I tried (McMullen) one time early in the summer and said, "No, (U.S.) 19 is better.' "

It has been less than a decade since McMullen-Booth Road was widened to six lanes and the Bayside Bridge linked northern Pinellas County to St. Petersburg. But in that time, traffic counts along stretches of the highway have doubled. During morning and afternoon rush hours, McMullen-Booth is bumper-to-bumper, particularly in Clearwater.

Now Pinellas County officials are studying the 7-mile stretch between Tampa Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to see whether there are ways to ease the congestion.

Widening the road is not an option, said Brian Smith, director of the county transportation planning board.

Instead, the county hopes that smaller fixes might make a difference. The county will present a variety of ideas at a public meeting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Countryside branch of the Clearwater Public Library, 2741 State Road 580.

County officials also want to hear from commuters about what they think might help ease McMullen-Booth traffic.

"On the surface, you look at it and say, "What could be really done with it?' " Smith said. "There's nothing overwhelmingly obvious. There's things to make it work better."

The options under consideration for McMullen-Booth Road include:

An express public bus route.

Encouraging car pooling and creating park-and-ride areas.

Designating one express lane for buses and car poolers.

Enhancing sidewalks and bike paths both on McMullen-Booth and on side roads that connect to it.

Expanding the "Intelligent Transportation System" with cameras that monitor traffic so that traffic lights can be adjusted, plus electronic message boards that warn of accidents ahead.

Verdon says better-coordinated traffic lights and more turn lanes would help keep traffic flowing on McMullen-Booth during rush hour.

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Keith Zayac says McMullen-Booth traffic is particularly bad when he brings his daughter to school at McMullen Booth Elementary about 8 a.m.

"The farther down to Gulf-to-Bay you go, the worse it is," he said. "It only lasts for an hour and a half, but it's the hour and a half people are going to work."

Smith said another option could be to work with companies that have large numbers of employees commuting on McMullen-Booth Road. If the companies would agree to stagger the times at which employees report to work, congestion might be eased.

If you go

Pinellas County's transportation planning board will hold a public forum Tuesday to discuss options for easing congestion on McMullen-Booth Road between Tampa Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The meeting will be at the Countryside branch of the Clearwater Public Library, 2741 State Road 580, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. County staffers will be on hand. An overview of a June study of the corridor will be presented at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization at 464-8200. The study is online at http://www.co.pinellas.fl.us/

mpo/.

McMullen-Booth daily traffic counts

Enterprise Road to Union Street

1993: 33,792

2000: 67,676

Union Street to Sunset Point Road

1993: 24,439

2000: 64,366

Sunset Point Road to NE Coachman Road

1993: 24,344

2000: 68,172

NE Coachman to Drew Street

1993: 46,394

2000: 72,826

Drew Street to State Road 60

1993: 45,291

2000: 73,322

Bayside Bridge south end

1993: 36,996

2000: 69,051

Source: Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization

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