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Starkey retailers rue road barriers

It's hard to miss the barricades on Starkey Road, which is closed at the CSX railroad crossing while railroad crews make repairs on the track.

Some merchants south of Ulmerton are afraid the barriers are scaring customers away.

But surely there's a way around all the trouble, right?

Not exactly.

Some drivers have forged alternate paths down Belcher Road only to be greeted by barricades surrounding a two-month-long Pinellas County project to repair a 48-inch water main.

Bill Vlahovich, who lives on Belcher Road, said he loops around town just to avoid the barricades, which block two lanes of traffic south of East Bay Drive.

"I can look out my front door at any time of the day and see the traffic just lined back," Vlahovich said.

Vlahovich said the congestion has caused several fender benders.

"If nobody's been killed or seriously hurt, it's amazing, but the law of averages will catch up with it," he said.

Lynda Foster, owner of Re-Uz-It consignment store, north of Bryan Dairy on Starkey, has battled the traffic on her street, too.

"It's really a nightmare trying to get home," Foster said. "The other streets are so blocked."

Her business is down 80 percent over the past week because customers don't want to deal with the barriers that block off the right lane near her store, she said.

"You have to jockey through all of the barricades," Foster said. "My business is terrible."

She has commiserated with other merchants. And even though the beauty shop down the street has kept regular appointments, almost every one is late, she said.

County officials said the barricades won't be around much longer because both projects are scheduled to wrap up within the next two weeks.

Mike Sweet, Pinellas county director of utilities engineering, said the Belcher repairs have taken a while because a few sections of the pipe had to be fixed and the paving process can be time-consuming.

"We are moving as quickly as we can. We are very aware of the traffic situation," Sweet said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or at lorrisptimes.com.

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