Consultants for the improvements to be made at Walsingham Road and Gulf Boulevard listen to City Manager Chuck Coward explain the project to Indian Rocks Beach Commissioners. From left are architect Dwight Holmes, landscape architect Jake Zimmerman and traffic engineer Jerry Dabkowski. Coward is standing at the podium.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – For at least two years officials in Indian Rocks Beach have been talking about ways to improve the look of the city’s signature intersection, Walsingham Road and Gulf Boulevard.
They have been contemplating improving the traffic pattern, making it look pretty and tying in improvements to the vacant piece of land abutting the intersection known as the pocket park.
At a special city workshop meeting Feb. 26 City Manager Chuck Coward told the commissioners that the best way to achieve their goals would be to separate the project into three distinct phases.
“Divide and conquer is the way to tackle this issue in IRB,” he said.
Coward said it became obvious to him and his staff as they worked through the process that as they learned more and more the project got bigger and bigger.
“You tend to get bogged down in the details,” he said. “Then the projects become bigger and it is difficult to talk about all three parts of the project at once because each has plenty of details. We could easily spend an hour or an hour and a half talking about each one. We think the best way is to separate them and deal with each one by itself.”
Coward said there are two important parts to a city taking on a project such as the Walsingham intersection: money and timing.
“Money, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “Until we can talk money and see what we can afford we won’t know anything.”
Coward said the city has put aside some money in each of the last two years for the project. He said roughly $385,000 has been targeted for what appears to be a $700,000 to a $1 million project.
He said the intersection work is the most expensive and bureaucratic-laden at $400,000. Then the beautification part could cost more than $300,000 and improvements to the small park another $200,000. Paying for that is where the timing comes in. He said by splitting the project into three parts the city could go ahead with the intersection improvements right away and have the money to pay for it. Then in the next two to three years could save up enough to pay for the other two phases.
With that, almost assuming the Commissioners agreed with him, Coward passed the microphone over to traffic consultant Jerry Dabkowski, who presented three distinct plans for the intersection.
Dabkowski said based on the feedback he got from residents, the intersection changes came down to two basic designs. Both would see the elimination of the traffic islands in the intersection. That is where the similarity ended. One design had eliminated the right turn lane coming north on Gulf Boulevard, turning east onto Walsingham. The other design had left the right turn lane intact. There is also a provision to add a crossing lane for golf carts on Gulf Boulevard, which can be added to either design anytime in the future.
One feature that has been eliminated in both designs is the free flowing right turn lane coming off Walsingham going north on Gulf Boulevard. Dabkowski said that traffic will have ample opportunity to make that turn without holding up other vehicles.
After they heard the specifics of the plans the commissioners were unanimous in their demand that the right turn lane remain in place.
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin said she liked the entire concept, especially because it makes the intersection safer.
“We can’t stop every errant driver from running down pedestrians, but at least we are making it more difficult.”
Later at the regular IRB Commission meeting the commissioners gave Coward the official go-ahead to proceed with more formal planning for the project. He said even with beginning right away the soonest the project could be finished would be in December 2014.
Consultant Dabkowski said nothing would happen until the Florida Department of Transportation has the final say because Gulf Boulevard is a State road.
Discussion of the improvements to the park and the beautification of the intersection will be held at another special meeting at 5 p.m. on April 23.