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Shedding new light on road

(ran West, East, Beach editions)

Blind Pass Road won't be in the dark too much longer.

The 1.1-mile road, which has been without street lights for two years, will soon be illuminated at night.

Next week, workers will begin a project that will bring 112 light poles to Blind Pass Road and 75th Avenue. Residents and business owners along the four-lane thoroughfare couldn't be happier.

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Diane Benzi, part owner of Vito & Michael's Gourmet Pizzeria.

The restaurant, which is open until 3 a.m. seven days a week, could use a little brightness, Benzi said, especially since the Kash n' Karry grocery store across the street shuts off its lights at 11 p.m.

"It's black over here," Benzi said.

The job will be done in three phases:

First, 48 poles will be installed from 75th Avenue to 86th Avenue. Then, 42 poles will go up from 86th Avenue to the bridge that connects St. Pete Beach to Treasure Island.

A final phase will include replacing 22 existing street lights on 75th Avenue from Corey Causeway to Gulf Boulevard.

And workers won't be digging up the road to lay cables, said Mike Mozo, a regional lighting specialist for Progress Energy.

Some lines already are in place, but others need to be buried, Mozo said. Rather than dig trenches, a machine will wriggle underground, create a path for tubes that shelter the wires and emerge at the other end.

The "no digging" part of the project is a relief for folks who live, work and travel on Blind Pass Road, considering the street was under construction for nearly two years. A $6.6-million project turned the two-lane strip into a five-lane highway, with a center turn lane, and added bicycle lanes and sidewalks, buried utility lines and improved drainage.

Except for landscaping medians and installing street lights, the work was finished in October.

Now come the lights.

"They're going to be pretty," said Mozo, explaining they won't be a standard design.

The white concrete poles will be 35 feet tall and generate 250 watts of light.

City Manager Mike Bonfield said the city originally wanted smaller decorative lights to line the road. But the Florida Department of Transportation would have required one of those lights every 50 feet, Bonfield said.

"Aesthetically, it would start to look like a picket fence out there," he said.

Resident Barbara Mooney, who lives on 86th Avenue, said she doesn't go out much at night, so the new street lights don't mean much to her. But she said she's glad they're coming for people who do use the road after dark.

Like Deborah Martohue, who is running for the City Commission's District 3 seat and lives on Blind Pass Road.

"We're definitely excited," she said.

Once the lights are up, she said, people will feel safer taking walks on the new sidewalks early in the morning or late at night. "Once they're lit, it offers more of an opportunity for all of us," she said.