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Palm Harbor roundabout opens to drivers, stirring resident discontent

A Publix delivery truck and passenger truck are some of the first casualties of the long-controversial roundabout at Palm Harbor Boulevard and Florida Avenue.
 
A drone view of the roundabout as vehicles navigate the area at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Palm Harbor Boulevard (US Alt 19) north of Clearwater. The west side of the roundabout has yet to be constructed.
A drone view of the roundabout as vehicles navigate the area at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Palm Harbor Boulevard (US Alt 19) north of Clearwater. The west side of the roundabout has yet to be constructed. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 10, 2023|Updated July 14, 2023

When the half-constructed roundabout opened at Palm Harbor Boulevard and Florida Avenue last month, local residents were wary. So far, it’s caused caused confusion and even a few collisions.

Now, some vocal residents doubt it’s the best mode of passage at the busy North Pinellas thoroughfare.

A sea of orange cones indicates that drivers must move in a circular fashion around the mess of dirt and cement at the center of the intersection.

Vehicle work to navigate through the Palm Harbor roundabout, aided by orange cones and directional signs that indicate the direction of the traffic circle.
Vehicle work to navigate through the Palm Harbor roundabout, aided by orange cones and directional signs that indicate the direction of the traffic circle. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Bobby Boles, an employee at Bill’s Palm Harbor Mobil and Auto Service Center on the northeast corner of the intersection, watched security camera footage from June 24 that showed a Publix truck ramming into the center, which hasn’t been fully constructed yet.

Two days earlier, he said, a passenger truck also hit the roundabout. It was brought into his repair shop, and damages will cost the driver more than $2,000.

The roundabout has been controversial since its early stages. Residents voiced disapproval as early as 2015, when Florida Department of Transportation officials said they were leaning toward installing the roundabout instead of a traffic light at Nebraska Avenue.

State officials said the roundabout is intended to reduce the number of fatal or injury crashes at the intersection. And after the $2.5 million upfront construction cost, the roundabout won’t cost as much to maintain compared to a traffic light. Construction is scheduled to finish in August.

Kim Cromble is an active member of the “Palm Harbor Roundabout” Facebook group. The Spring Hill resident said she’s started to avoid the traffic circle during her commute to and from her job at a private home in Palm Harbor.

“I will go out of my way to not use it,” she said in an interview. “I just think life would have been just fine with a traffic light.”

Cromble’s main complaint? The roundabout is too tight. She doesn’t want to run over the edge of the roundabout if she’s towing a trailer or in a large vehicle, she said.

One issue is that the roundabout isn’t complete yet, said Chelsea Favero, planning manager for Forward Pinellas, the region’s transportation planning agency, which helped coordinate the project and gather resident perspectives.

The west side of the roundabout still needs to be constructed, FDOT spokesperson Kristen Carson said. Signage, paving and pedestrian islands are on their way as well.

The cones are also making a tighter pathway for cars, Favero said. The roundabout was designed in consultation with the Palm Harbor fire department to, once complete, allow larger cars and emergency vehicles to lightly mount the pavement in order to clear the roundabout quickly.

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“I think people just need to be patient,” she said. Once it’s fully functioning, she said drivers will see some of the intended benefits.

“Can there be other crashes? Absolutely,” Favero said. “If someone doesn’t yield properly, then there can be a crash that results in some property damage. However, if you’re going to line up a fatal crash or a severe injury crash next to a property damage crash, we always want to see the property damage instead.”

A stray cone lies in the center lane as drivers exit the Palm Harbor roundabout. More modest crashes may occur in the first few months as drivers become accustomed to the traffic configuration, a Forward Pinellas representative said.
A stray cone lies in the center lane as drivers exit the Palm Harbor roundabout. More modest crashes may occur in the first few months as drivers become accustomed to the traffic configuration, a Forward Pinellas representative said. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Billy Coleman, owner of Palm Harbor Auto Service, another business adjacent to the roundabout, said he hasn’t lost customers since construction began last August. He favored a traffic light instead of the roundabout, but he said he’s trying to remain cooperative.

“One thing I learned a long time ago is you might as well shut up and make the best of it,” he said.