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Overpass work to interrupt traffic

The building of a crucial link in the Clearwater East-West Trail will likely cause drivers some headaches this month, as the city plans to spend two Sundays this month erecting a long-awaited pedestrian bridge over McMullen-Booth Road.

This Sunday and Jan. 23, McMullen-Booth Road will be closed between State Road 590 and Drew Street from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m for the construction. If you're looking for a detour, city officials have suggested U.S. 19, but drivers should expect heavy traffic.

Combine Sunday traffic from two of the busiest north-south thoroughfares in the county, city traffic operations manager Paul Bertels said, and you've got the equivalent of a weekday rush hour. All day long.

"I wouldn't want to be out driving in that," Bertels said.

The pedestrian overpass, which was envisioned years ago, is one of the last big links in a series of joined trails that will snake from Safety Harbor all the way to Clearwater Beach.

Specifically, the overpass will span McMullen-Booth and connect the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex to Del Oro Park. Its purpose, city officials said, is to join the two sides of the Clearwater East-West Trail and to provide safe passage over a busy road that has been the site of at least one pedestrian death in the past year.

The trail project has been in the works for years and should be finished sometime in 2007, Clearwater Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar said.

When it's finished, the project will link the Safety Harbor Trail to Clearwater Beach and the Pinellas Trail, but Dunbar said at least three major sections still have to be built: a 4-mile trail along Druid Road, a bridge on Clearwater Beach and parts of the county's Progress Energy Trail.

The overpass portion will cost $3.5-million, Dunbar said, and is being paid for with a state grant that was secured more than four years ago. Planning and state approvals slowed the project, which Dunbar said will soon give the East-West Trail some needed publicity.

"We never really pushed the East-West trail, and a lot of it is because of this missing link," Dunbar said. "It's really one of the better-kept secrets in Clearwater."

Pedestrians should be allowed to use the new bridge by early summer, Dunbar said. Now, the only way to traverse McMullen-Booth is by crossing six lanes of heavy traffic.

In October, 16-year-old Rebecca McKinney died after being hit by a truck while crossing McMullen-Booth at a spot near the proposed pedestrian bridge. McKinney, a student at Clearwater High School, was going home after getting off her school bus.

But despite the apparent danger of crossing such a busy street, few have been injured on that stretch of McMullen-Booth, said Gina Harvey, a crash data supervisor with the Pinellas County Planning Department.

"We have a lot more areas in the county where we have a lot more pedestrian accidents," she said.

Even after work is done in January, the overpass will still be months from completion. Dunbar said further overpass construction will probably interrupt traffic for at least one more day in the spring.

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