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TREASURE ISLAND – Treasure Island commissioners are about to pave the way for the latest phase of the Gulf Boulevard Improvement Project.

Due to the hefty cost of placing all wires underground, the city will only relocate and bury perpendicular overhead utility wires, along with installing two gateway features, some lighting and landscaping.

The program began 17 years ago, as a joint effort between 11 gulf coastal cities and Pinellas County Economic Development. The plan is to create a unified streetscape design along Gulf Boulevard and relocate overhead utilities, according to Michael Helfrich, Treasure Island Public Works Director.

With the county funding the project, the budget doled out is based on the length of Gulf Boulevard that stretches through a specific municipality. Treasure Island has the second longest stretch of Gulf Boulevard with 2.45 miles, with St. Pete Beach first with 3.65 miles and Madeira Beach third with 2.15 miles.

Therefore, Treasure Island was provided with $3.77 million to make improvements along its portion of the Gulf Boulevard.

The city will use its grant funds to remove, relocate and underground all perpendicular utilities crossing Gulf Boulevard from 127th Avenue south to 119th Avenue. In addition, the project includes street light replacement and miscellaneous undergrounding of perpendicular overhead wires on Gulf Boulevard from 127th Avenue to 105th Ave.

According to a study there are 17 perpendicular Duke Energy crossings along Gulf Boulevard, 11 Frontier crossings and three Spectrum crossings. The city will have to pay Duke Energy more than $1 million to place its overhead wires underground, Spectrum $44,743 and Frontier $24,689.

The total projected cost for this proposal, including engineering, design and restoration, is estimated at $2.77 million.

Helfrich noted the cost and condition of overhead utilities from 104th Avenue to Blind Pass Bridge, along Gulf Boulevard, will not permit the city to place all wires underground. The cost of burying all overhead wires was determined to be over $4 million in 2013.

Because of the limited funds, it was determined the city would relocate overhead utilities that run perpendicular to Gulf Boulevard, he explained.

At the May 1 work session, public works staff noted they are only requesting authorization for the utility relocation portion of this project.

The city plans to install a gateway feature at the city’s northern entrance by the Johns Pass Bridge median and southern boundary of the project across from Sunset Vista Trailhead Park.

Under the current preliminary schedule, the first phase of the project should begin at the Blind Pass Bridge on June 11, with the second phase beginning at 100th Avenue on Aug. 13. The last phase should start at 102nd Avenue on Dec. 3. Bids will be requested for the gateway, landscaping irrigation and lighting portion in mid-September. The project should be completed at the end of July in 2019.

Mayor Larry Lunn said he would like to see a banner-type welcome feature at the gateway, stretching across Gulf Boulevard, but the Public Works Director questioned if an overhead arch would be prudent with the city putting wires underground.

The public works director noted part of the project will include landscaping certain medians; However, Commissioner Heidi Horak said she would like the city to take a minimalist approach with the least amount of signs or even landscaping that requires irrigation.

Horak said Gulf Boulevard needs medians that provide pedestrians with a safe place to cross the busy roadway.

Upon questioning from Commissioner Ralph Kennedy about portions of Gulf Boulevard where wires will not be placed underground, Helfrich said additional streets could be included in future projects. However,  it would require millions more in grant funding to acquire easements to put all overhead wires underground.

The commission will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to authorize the project at its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 15.