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COUNTY SEEKS GULFPORT BOULEVARD PLAN INPUT

Nothing is set in asphalt yet, but a consultant, residents and officials all will have their say.

Pinellas County recently announced plans to begin improving Gulfport Boulevard in the next few years, but officials aren't quite sure of the specifics.

In the meantime they are open to suggestions from residents, municipalities and businesses, all of whom have different ideas on how to make it better.

The county held an initial meeting July 25 to let Gulfport and St. Petersburg residents voice concerns about how to proceed with improvements for the stretch of road, which is called 22nd Avenue S in St. Petersburg.

The Gulfport Merchants Association is sending about a hundred of the response forms it received at the meeting to the county, asking for a synchronized traffic light on each side of Beach Boulevard, said Mike McKee, the group's vice president.

"Most importantly it's to signify the entrance to our business district, the Gulfport waterfront, which has been there for many years," McKee said.

He said traffic lights would make Beach Boulevard, which crosses Gulfport Boulevard as two separate one-way streets, safer for drivers and promote area tourism.

The county started the project in response to the Metropolitan Planning Organization's study, which suggested widening the road to increase traffic flow.

This would make the addition of new traffic lights unlikely, according to City Manager Tom Brobeil, who represented the City Commission and city interests at the meeting.

Brobeil said the commission and residents were primarily concerned about the addition of a center lane, median or bike lane, which would mean less space between the road and the sidewalk.

"We've got some green space that looks nice, and people in Gulfport don't like to see green space replaced with asphalt," he said.

Instead the city would prefer that the county focus on improving intersections, including the Beach Boulevard and 52nd Street intersections, but would like to see a stop signal on 54th Street that would allow emergency vehicles easier access to Gulfport Boulevard.

But it's still too early to tell what, if any, concerns or suggestions the county will act upon.

Project manager Robert Guercia said that unlike most county projects, which are planned from beginning to end, this one still is completely open.

The county is waiting for a yearlong study from Reynolds Smith and Hills, a consulting firm hired to determine the necessary changes to the road, before finishing its project planning.

The county then will present its plan to Gulfport and St. Petersburg residents and city officials, but Guercia said that won't be until at least 2009.

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnosn@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

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