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Mehlenbacher sidewalks project OK’d
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LARGO – The long-awaited repair and construction of sidewalks along Mehlenbacher Road will be completed by November of this year, following the Largo Commission’s approval of the project Feb. 19.

The project, extending from 20th Street to Clearwater-Largo Road, will result in about one mile of new sidewalk and improvements to the stormwater drainage in the area at an estimated cost of $834,958. The new sidewalks will encompass Pinellas Trail, Clearwater-Largo Road, Largo neighborhoods and the improvement of several school bus stops.

“It was a challenging design project because we have a very narrow right of way to fit a sidewalk in,” explained city engineer Leland Dicus. “We also had ditches to contend with and there are a number of permits we had to acquire for the project.”

Marcello Tavernari, senior design engineer and manager for the Mehlenbacher project, explained that in-house engineering staff worked to address several problems, including a complete lack of sidewalk in some areas, poor sidewalks to be replaced in others and localized flooding.

Currently, there isn’t enough space to install a sidewalk, given existing stormwater ditches and drainage, which will have to be improved. As it is, residents are already walking along the narrow space between the road and drainage, as evidenced by worn footpaths, Tavernari explained.

The improvements also will address required Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Tavernari showed the commission a photograph of a driveway, full of potholes, that extends into the city’s right of way.

“If you’re in a wheelchair, this is going to be a quite a challenge getting where you need to go,” he said.

Tavernari said the completion of the project has been “long-awaited.”

“All the residents I’ve talked to, they want this really bad,” Tavernari said, explaining that there had been concern for school buses dropping off children in the area. “This should make it a lot safer.”

Commissioner Harriet Crozier, who said she was “thrilled” to approve the project, asked that city staff make sure they coordinated with the school board in regards to the school bus stops as construction got under way.

In general, Largo commissioners supported the project, which has been several years in the making.

“I’m sure the residents out there are going to be very thrilled to see this,” Commissioner Curtis Holmes said.

Originally, city staff hoped the project would include needed improvements of drainage and sidewalks along 16th Street, which runs perpendicular to Mehlenbacher Road. But to improve the culverts, the city would have to “increase pipe sizes significantly to prevent flooding downstream,” Dicus explained.

“That increased the budget significantly. And so we’re having to re-phase that project,” he said.

Despite the delay, the flooding problems along 16th Street should not worsen as drainage improves along Mehlenbacher Road.

“They’ll be disconnected systems after the project,” Discus said. “We’ll be sending less water down 16th with the Mehlenbacher improvements so the residents along 16th won’t be negatively impacted.”

The project won’t include the entirety of Mehlenbacher Road. The gap-laden sidewalk west of the Pinellas Trail is in the jurisdiction of Belleair Bluffs, Dicus said.

Priority dispatch to be discussed

After hearing from a representative from the city’s fire union, Mayor Pat Gerard asked that the commission discuss the county’s planned changes to how emergency medical services are funded and handled.

County commissioners voted last month to eliminate the dual response to nonemergency calls, requiring that only Sunstar ambulance respond to calls from sick persons and certain types of falls. Currently, local firefighters – including Largo Fire Rescue – also respond to those types of calls and are later reimbursed for their costs by county.

“It is our position that the county’s phase three priority dispatch will be detriment to the citizens of Largo, as well as all the citizens of Pinellas County,” said Macho Liberti, secretary for Largo Professional Firefighters. “The issue lies in the determination of what qualified as one of these low quality calls.”

Liberti asked Largo commissioner Feb. 19 to rescind their resolution in support of the county’s plan and to allow Largo firefighters to “continue running all calls for help from Largo residents.”

“If city does decide to respond to a call the county now deems as low priority, the county will not fund the fire department. Essentially, the city of Largo will have to pay for continuing the level of service that Largo citizens currently enjoy,” Liberti said.

Gerard, echoing the majority of her fellow commissioners, asked that both issues – the city’s support of the county’s plan and whether the city will continue to respond to low-priority calls – be discussed in an upcoming meeting.

“If they are indeed going to do priority dispatch, we want to be notified and we want to continue responding,” she said.
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