Commission hits pause button on Pinellas Trail project

This map shows the north gaps on the Pinellas Trail.

CLEARWATER — County Commissioners considered two items of business April 9 that would move forward completion of the Pinellas Trail.

Since 1990, the county has been working to complete the 75-mile Pinellas Trail Loop that will stretch from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. But, two big gaps remain in the project, a north gap and a south gap.

Ken Jacobs with the Transportation Department provided an update on plans to close the north gap, which consists of 6.8 miles running from John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor 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 John Chesnut Sr. 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. He said if concerns had warranted design changes that could be done, plans had been modified. He said staff had walked the route with homeowner’s associations to help them understand how everything would be laid out.

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 Road.

Jacobs said when the route for the north gap was first considered in 2008, five alternatives 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. Points of conflicts include driveways and intersections.

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 million-$5 million. The North Loop project is funded by a grant from Florida Department of Transportation and Penny for Pinellas.

He said there were existing areas of the trail that needed pedestrian overpasses. Staff is working with the commission and FDOT on a priority list on where overpasses should be installed.

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.

Trail extension

With little discussion, commissioners said yes to award a bid to All American Concrete in Largo of $2.22 million for work on Phase II of the Duke Energy Trail extension.

The project completes 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.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.