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Starkey Road closure worries some merchants

(ran West, Seminole, Beach, South editions)

If you've driven down Starkey Road, you're probably familiar with the bumpy railroad crossing south of Ulmerton Road.

In a few weeks, the ride there should be a lot smoother.

Last week, CSX Transportation started repairs on the crossing. The road will be closed at the site for about three weeks during construction.

There will be access to homes and businesses on Starkey Road, and signs will be posted to let the public know shops are open.

But merchants along the strip are afraid sales will slip anyway.

"That's terrible," said Mike Goetz, co-owner of Rage, a club wear and accessory store south of Ulmerton. "That's going to kill us."

Lynda Foster, owner of Re-Uz-It consignment store north of Bryan Dairy Road, said she doesn't know what to expect, but she was relieved to learn there will be access north and south of the tracks.

"A good portion of my customers travel this area and are not going to take this route," Foster said. "I don't know what kind of impact it's going to have."

Barb Germain, owner of Barb's Super Subs, has another concern. Her small sandwich shop thrives on lunchtime deliveries. She's worried the road closure south of her could add about a half hour to those orders.

"It's going to make a long day for my delivery driver," Germain said.

Pinellas County Public works is teaming up with CSX to do the repairs. The railroad is installing concrete rail panels and replacing the tracks, ties and rock underneath. The county will fix the road near the tracks, repair the sidewalk and improve drainage where necessary.

Merchants questioned why the project would take so long. Paul Giuliani, director of construction management for Pinellas County Public Works, said construction time varies depending on the type of improvements necessary. This spot needed a good deal of attention to make it safe for both traffic and trains, Giuliani said.

"The crossing is in rough condition, and it's deteriorating," Giuliani said.

One worker said he recognized the need, but doesn't like it.

"It's going to hurt any of the businesses down here, but it's something that's got to be done, so you got to put up with it," said Terry Lundh, a salesperson at Bradley's Living Room Gallery, just south of Ulmerton.

Officials ask that drivers keep their speed down while the work is under way.

"Safety is our concern," said Richard Gildea, chief inspector for Pinellas County Public Works construction administration. "It's a tough road out there. It's very, very busy. It's one of our busiest pieces of roadway. We'd just urge people to watch for the workers and be safe."

Southbound traffic will be directed from Ulmerton Road and northbound traffic will be routed via Bryan Dairy Road to Belcher Road or Seminole Boulevard.

In November, CSX repaired the crossing at 62nd Avenue N just west of 49th Street in Pinellas Park. In December, it improved tracks at Old Coachman and NE Coachman roads in Clearwater.

Work on the crossing at Enterprise Road between McMullen-Booth Road and Philippe Parkway in Safety Harbor is scheduled for early February. The cost for all four projects is $1.2-million.

_ Times Staff Writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

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