1. Pinellas

County commissioners decide Pinellas Trail gap needs another look

CLEARWATER — The County Commission recently voted to complete a few small segments of the Pinellas Trail, but agreed that a much bigger piece needs a longer look and more discussion.

Since 1990, the county has been working to complete the 75-mile Pinellas Trail Loop that stretches from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. On the west side, the trail is continuous, running the length of the county. But gaps remain on the east side, where advocates would like to close the loop.

Ken Jacobs with the county's Transportation Department provided an update recently on plans to close the north gap, which is 6.8 miles from John Chesnut Sr. Park in East Lake to the Duke Energy Trailhead at Enterprise Road in Clearwater.

The proposed route would take the trail along the Duke Energy easement, Meadow Wood Drive and Countryside Boulevard. It would connect at Chesnut Park on the north end and the existing overpass at Enterprise Road on the south.

Jacobs said plans were 60 percent complete. If commissioners approve the guaranteed maximum price from the contractor, work could begin as early as June and be complete by the fall of 2020. He expects to present the price to the commission in the near future.

Jacobs also talked about community outreach done in 2018 and 2019, and staff's response to concerns. Generally, comments had been favorable, he said, and plans had moved forward.

However, a few residents have recently come forward with safety concerns, including crossing McMullen-Booth Road, potential for crime and reduced property value due to segments that will be built behind residences. Some would like commissioners to reconsider the route and perhaps follow along McMullen-Booth.

Jacobs said when the route for the north gap was first considered in 2008, five possibilities were studied, including McMullen-Booth Road. However, that alternative was eliminated early due to safety issues, which he described as "points of conflict" where pedestrians and bicyclists would most likely encounter vehicles.

RELATED: Report: Florida still the most dangerous state for pedestrians

Plans call for crossing five major intersections and a canal. Traffic control devices and traffic signals would be installed or modified as needed. A bridge would be built over the canal.

Although a traffic signal is planned for the crossing over McMullen-Booth Road, Jacobs said eventually a pedestrian overpass should be installed. An overpass is not in current plans due to the cost.

"We're trying to finish the loop with available money," he said.

An overpass would cost an estimated $3-5 million. He said there were existing areas of the trail that needed overpasses. Staff is working with the commission and state Department of Transportation on an overpass priority list.

Commissioners agreed to look at the studies done in 2008 and see if an update was warranted.

"Let's take one last look at it at a work session," Commission Chair Karen Seel said.

With little discussion, commissioners made more progress elsewhere by voting to award a bid to All American Concrete in Largo for $2.22 million for a project that will complete a trail segment from Sunset Point Road to NE Coachman Road and provides an extension to the existing trail segments from Enterprise Road to the north and U.S. 19 at Haines-Bayshore Road to the south.

Work is expected to be completed within 270 calendar days.