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  1. Transportation

Largo residents may wait a long time for new sidewalks

Published Apr. 28, 2012

LARGO — If you're waiting for a sidewalk in your neighborhood, it could be a while.

In 2009, the city staff identified 44 miles of roads in Largo that need sidewalks. Building all those sidewalks would cost about $6.6 million, the staff told city commissioners, and would take 22 years.

Three years later, the sluggish economy has lengthened that timetable. Less-than-expected sales tax income has forced city management to prioritize. Projects like the new Highland Recreation Complex come first; new sidewalks will have to wait.

There are no new sidewalks in Largo's capital improvement plans until 2017, and now the staff estimates it will take about 45 years to fill all the sidewalk gaps. That would mean Largo would finally be fully sidewalk-equipped in 2057.

Some areas will get new sidewalks between now and 2017 if they are part of road improvement projects. The roughly $5.7 million Highland Avenue improvement project includes new sidewalks. But road projects will add only a few miles of sidewalk.

The financial culprit is a familiar one for city management: Penny for Pinellas income. The countywide penny sales tax was supposed to provide more than $90 million for Largo — at least, that was the expected sum when the tax was pitched to voters for a 2007 referendum. That number has been revised to about $60 million. The city has been forced to drop some projects and scale back others.

Sidewalks come behind the new recreation complex ($17 million), fire and police vehicles ($16 million), and a new fire station ($3 million), among other projects.

"If we had the money, we would have sidewalks every place where it's a safety concern," said Mayor Pat Gerard. "There's just not enough money to go around."

Gerard identified two places she'd like to see sidewalks tomorrow, if the city had the money: along Indian Rocks Road and Gladys Street. (Indian Rocks is a county road, Gerard noted, so not the city's responsibility.)

There is one advantage to delaying installation of new sidewalks, according to the city staff. It gives engineers time to complete Largo's multimodal evaluation, intended to redesign downtown Largo so residents and visitors can rely less on cars. The evaluation is looking at road improvements, bus routes and potential bike lanes and sidewalks.

City engineer Leland Dicus said the evaluation will allow for better-planned sidewalks in conjunction with other road projects. Other potential funding sources, like state and federal grants, could also be outlined in the evaluation, which should be finished later this year.

"We're trying to better package these projects," Dicus said. "We're looking at the whole street, not just the sidewalks."

Sidewalks are pricey. Including design, they cost about $150,000 per mile, according to staff estimates. Largo's latest plan for Penny for Pinellas spending allocates $1.3 million to new sidewalks. That will buy about 8 miles. The first 4 miles are projected to be built in 2017.

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Dicus said he won't know where these 4 miles will be until he gets the multimodal evaluation back.

"There's a tremendous need for new sidewalk in this city," he said. "We just have a large number of projects competing for less money."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com.

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