PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — There’s controversy surrounding a multi-million dollar construction project along U.S. 19 in Pinellas County.
The interchanges and roadway improvements aim to make the highway flow better for cars but critics say one part of the plan wastes taxpayer dollars and harms small businesses.
The controversial part of FDOT’s project is a plan to create an underpass for pedestrians.
“I don’t like the idea of a tunnel for pedestrians,” said Joyce Monahan.
Joyce comes to Maple Lanes Countryside to blow off steam. Bowling brings Joyce joy.
Like the owner of Maple Lanes, Joyce is concerned about plans for more construction on U.S. 19.
“I think we’ve had more than enough construction on 19. I think that’s the last thing we need,” she said.
FDOT’S six-year project, set to start next year, will cost $240 million.
The goal is to make traffic flow better.
They’ll get rid of signals at high-crash intersections on 19, and create new interchanges between state road 580 and Curlew Road.
But a point of contention is a pedestrian underpass between Evans Road and Republic Drive.
State Sen. Ed Hooper says he can’t find anyone who supports it.
“We can’t find any pedestrian traffic,” Hooper said. “Years ago, there were several mobile home parks along this portion of US 19. They’ve long been leveled.”
Hooper said he’s trying to stop the pedestrian underpass construction.
According to the senator, all along U.S 19 there are pedestrian bridges overhead; and this, if constructed, would be the only pedestrian underpass along the entire highway.
Hooper said the underpass is a bigger project, costing more time and money.
The senator is also concerned for businesses that’ll have to deal with construction for years.
Who does he blame? Not FDOT, but instead an organization called Forward Pinellas.
“They voted to reaffirm their initial decision to press forward,” Hooper said.
Forward Pinellas, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, is charged with addressing transportation concerns in the county.
In a phone call, Executive Director Whit Blanton disputed the multi-million dollar price tag for the underpass.
Blanton said a pedestrian underpass is cheaper than a pedestrian bridge.
While he conceded there’s little pedestrian traffic at the location now due to safety concerns, Blanton said his job is to plan for the future.
In the years to come, he anticipates pedestrian traffic will increase with the population growth of the county.
“I’m interested in making traffic flow better but we don’t need to spend money on something that is not going to be utilized,” Hooper said.
An FDOT spokesperson says in the past five years, there’ve been five serious, even fatal crashes involving pedestrians in the mile-and-a-half area near the pedestrian underpass.
We asked for the specific location of the crashes. We’ll let you know when FDOT responds.