Beach municipalities ask for higher priority for sidewalk project

Indian Shores Mayor Patrick Soranno and Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy ask members of Forward Pinellas during an April 14 meeting to make a sidewalk project on Gulf Boulevard a higher priority.

Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach say it is past time for a project planned in 2003 to be completed — or at least be given higher priority.

Indian Shores Mayor Patrick Soranno supported by Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy appealed to members of Forward Pinellas during an April 14 discussion on the draft multimodal priorities.

Chelsea Favero, planning manager, said Forward Pinellas reviewed and adopted the multimodal priority list each year. Projects are listed in two-tiers, funded and unfunded and projects remain on the list until completed, she said.

However, the draft presented for review contained three unfinished projects that were removed from the list. Two were placeholders for future work on U.S. Alternate 19 and one was an aerial transit feasibility study now underway through Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority.

The draft also included new projects, which added fuel to the fire of Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach officials that have been waiting since 2003 for a sidewalk project they say is needed to improve the safety of Gulf Boulevard.

Soranno said the sidewalk project was long overdue.

“It should have been done many years ago,” he said, as part of his request for Forward Pinellas to make it a higher priority.

It is currently 25 of 30 on the list. It is not funded and it doesn’t have an expected date on when it would receive funding.

Sorrano said Florida Department of Transportation approached Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach in 1997 about improvements on a 3-mile segment of Gulf Boulevard between Park Street and Walsingham Road. It would include a reclaimed water project by Pinellas County Utilities and was proposed to be completed by August 2009. The cost for Gulf Boulevard was $25 million and $8 million for the reclaimed water lines.

In 2003, a decision was made to include the project with one proposed by Pinellas County Utilities, which was upgrading water and sewer lines along the roadway, as well as a project to underground utilities. The estimated cost was $38 million, which was more than the money budgeted for the project.

Sorrano showed a 2003 document from the Metropolitan Planning Organization that he says included the sidewalk project on a multimodal priority list. It was unfunded at the time.

Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton isn’t so sure the document is about what Sorrano believes. He said in 2003, the MPO didn’t use multimodal priority lists. Forward Pinellas member and County Commissioner Karen Seel thinks the document may have been referring to proposed plan to make Gulf Boulevard a 4-lane road.

Whatever the project was, it fell off the list after 2003.

But the project was still in the planning phase incorporating the work proposed by county Utilities and undergrounding of utilities.

By 2006, the cost had nearly doubled. The project was scaled back to include a resurfaced two-lane roadway with 5-foot shoulders for bike and pedestrian walking lanes, a 16-inch reclaimed water transmission main and distribution lines as well as potable water line improvements and sanitary sewer upgrades. But it did not include curbs or sidewalks.

At that time, several opposed the plan to use pervious asphalt for the walking lanes (shoulders) as they feared it would become clogged with sand and cause ponding on the roadway, which is exactly what happened after the project was completed in 2009.

In 2018, FDOT proposed a new project to fix the drainage problem.

Sorrano brought the problem with ponding and lack of sidewalks to Forward Pinellas in June 2019. At that time, FDOT was working on a project to help with the ponding issues. That project is expected to be complete by August.

Sorrano showed photos of people walking in Gulf Boulevard because the shoulders were flooded. FDOT says the project underway will prevent that problem.

As part of the drainage project, FDOT agreed to add six-foot sidewalks to both sides of the road with sod/landscape buffers between the sidewalks and vehicle lanes from Park Boulevard to 195th Avenue.

However, FDOT said construction of curbs and sidewalks on the remainder of the roadway would not be easy, especially in areas with only a 40-foot right of way, which run from 195th Avenue to the eastern sea wall and from First Avenue to Walsingham Road. A small area, from Park Boulevard to 195th Avenue and from the eastern sea wall to First Avenue has a 50-60 foot right of way.

Forward Pinellas unanimously approved adding future construction of curbs and sidewalks from 195th Avenue to Walsingham Road to the draft Multimodal Project Priority List at that June 12 meeting. FDOT had already developed four possible options for the project.

The problem remains with residents that have encroached on the roadway’s right-of-way, said Richard Moss, representing FDOT. He said that problem and others would be identified during a Project Development &Environment Study, which is slated to begin in July and take about a year. The next phase would be to get the project funded.

Still Sorrano wasn’t happy. He said even with the drainage project alleviating ponding on the walking lanes, the problem still existed with them being at street-grade where vehicles could travel and strike pedestrians and bicyclists especially at night.

“We’re here to plea with you folks to get this fixed,” he said. … “This is a clear and present danger staring us in the face.”

Forward Pinellas is expected to approve the final multimodal priority list in May including projects identified during the Alt. 19 corridor study. Directors also questioned including a Duke Energy Trail overpass at Roosevelt and Carillon when others are needed.

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