ST. PETE BEACH — Gulf Winds Drive, which stretches north from Gulf Boulevard near 60th Avenue and connects to Boca Ciega Drive at 70th Avenue, will be totally reconstructed into a much narrower and safer roadway, if plans come to fruition in the next few years.
Public Works Director Mike Clarke told city commissioners one major change will be in the redesign of the two-lane, undivided roadway, that will reduce travel lanes from 40 to 10 feet wide.
“Gulf Boulevard is ten feet. We don’t need 25-foot travel lanes, it just invites that, ‘Whoosh, I can get from here to there faster,’” Clarke told city commissioners at a Dec. 7 meeting. “We are looking to reduce the traffic speeds through calming techniques. We’re looking to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicycle transportation by allocating space to their dedicated uses, where it’s possible.”
Narrowing the roadway will greatly reduce speeding, Clarke advised, and may prevent accidents like the vehicle that slammed into a utility pole on Thanksgiving after speeding down Gulf Winds.
According to project documents, Gulf Winds Drive will be reconfigured to provide 10-foot-wide travel lanes and a 6-foot sidewalk on the west side of the shoulder, with landscaped buffer along the project corridor. It will maintain the eastern side curb and pavement limits.
Commissioner Mark Grill said he has received questions from residents with concerns when it comes to understanding the overall project. “It’s a major thoroughfare through the east side of District 2,” he said.
Some of his constituents had questions about the redesign plan — for example, whether the flashing light at the intersection of 64th Avenue will be removed. They also questioned the project schedule.
“The question to me was, ‘When is this project going to actually get done?’” Grill said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time. The road is not in good condition physically, let alone what we need to achieve from a safety and traffic calming, and all those good things that we are trying to do to improve the atmosphere.”
In addition to realigning the roadway to provide a wider pedestrian pathway on the west side of the road and reducing travel lane widths, the project will improve pedestrian connectivity; include traffic calming devices, new curbing and an asphalt surface; and improve stormwater runoff while addressing drainage issues.
At the same time, improvements will be made to Boca Ciega Drive, which connects to Gulf Winds Drive in the north and is considered a sister project. A redesign of Boca Ciega Drive will include instillation of on-street parallel parking within the city right of way to serve the church along 84th Avenue.
Redesign and reconstruction of Gulf Winds Drive will be broken up into commercial and residential segments, and then a design for 75th Avenue, Clarke said. Bicycle lanes will be allocated where space is available.
Whether to remove or keep the flashing light at 64th Avenue will be evaluated and studied. Clarke noted the 64th Avenue intersection will not look the same; it will not look as big and that will make a difference in how people approach it.
Project documents, prepared by engineer Kimley Horn, noted the residential section of Gulf Winds Drive, from 64th Avenue to 73rd Avenue, will be reconfigured to include 5-foot bicycle lanes adjacent to travel lanes, with raised intersections for traffic calming.
The commercial segment, from 64th Avenue to Gulf Boulevard, will be designed with 6-foot-wide sidewalks along both shoulders and a landscaped buffer. On-street parking will be preserved and expanded where possible. Shared auto-bicycle travel lanes will be marked with a green background.
A big part of the project will be to determine what utilities stretch underground, before the road is milled and resurfaced, Clarke said.
Staff will also evaluate whether the 71st Avenue intersection should be redesigned or its traffic configuration changed. Clarke told commissioners, “We do have this challenging intersection configuration. I don’t know how it came to be, but 71st Avenue is sort of a novelty.”
One plan, suggested in an earlier city survey, is to install mini-traffic circles on 71st Avenue as a traffic calming measure to replace 4-way stop sign intersections. Among those taking an earlier survey, 62% favored instillation of mini-traffic circles, while 15% did not and 23% were not sure.
Along the entire route, medians can be installed as pinch points to narrow the roadway. Of those responding to the earlier survey, 54% favored using medians to slow traffic with 31% not sure.
When asked about top concerns in survey last summer, a majority of respondents, 91%, felt speeding and cut-through traffic is the biggest problem along Gulf Winds Drive; lack of pedestrian and bicycle facilities was second at 55%, with pavement conditions and drainage third at 45%.
The public works director noted the city plans to hold two more community meetings to solicit public comment, with one planned when the design is 30 percent complete, so changes can be incorporated into the redesign.
“We don’t want anyone to fear we are fixed in our targets of what we are going to do at this time, because we are not; there is public input to be had,” Clarke said. He said the city is planning “incredible public input opportunities, more than any project I have been associated with.”
The intent is to “deliver a product that comes as close as humanly possible to meeting everybody’s expectations. I will tell you right now that we will not,” Clarke said. “There’s always going to be someone that is disappointed for their own personal reasons, through their perspective, but we’ll hear it, we’ll listen to it and do our very best,” he told commissioners.
Commissioners approved a $260,790 contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates for design and construction phase services on Gulf Winds Drive from 75th Avenue to Gulf Boulevard.