ST. PETE BEACH — The good news is the $16.8 million project to upgrade the city’s sewer system that stretches under Gulf Boulevard is ahead of schedule. The bad news is temporary lane changes will remain in place until the end of August or beginning of September, and traffic delays will be felt into December.

“They changed the construction schedule a bit for the Gulf Boulevard work, because they have to do things in a different sequence,” Mayor Al Johnson said during his weekly address.

The Florida Department of Transportation “makes us put up concrete barriers when we are doing the connections between the pipes we put underneath the road. Those don’t move easily, so they go up and stay there. When the project is over, they come out,” Johnson said. “Bear with us, we got a while yet with that. It is moving ahead, and we’ll be done earlier than we hoped.”

Construction underground has caused months of detours and traffic congestion for locals traveling from residential neighborhoods and summer tourists trying to traverse Gulf Boulevard.

Sarah Laracuente, the city’s public information officer, advised that “due to a shift in the construction schedule, we can expect traffic on Gulf Boulevard will be disrupted in some form until December 2021.”

According to the latest construction schedule, the area of 37th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, and the section of roadway at 55th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, is projected to be completed by late July. The section of Gulf Boulevard at 44th Avenue is projected to be completed by mid-August, with the area of 50th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard estimated for early completion in September.

Brett Warner, assistant public works director and engineer, told Tampa Bay Newspapers much work needs to be done to complete and connect the sewer system underground to force mains.

He said the north force main from Gulf Boulevard and 59th Avenue to 87th Avenue and Boca Ciega Drive has been completed. Large pipe borings along Gulf Boulevard for the south force main have also been completed.

Four new lift stations must be comleted, among other work.

Warner said “a confining layer of clay” was encountered near the 3800 block of Gulf Boulevard, requiring restoration. No other major issues have occurred, and “all minor issues were breached in stride and did not affect project schedule.”

The project is not only designed to greatly improve the city’s sewer system and prevent wastewater from overflowing onto streets, it will remove a moratorium on new construction and redevelopment that was imposed by state officials seven years ago.

In November 2014 the city was placed under a consent order by the state Department of Environmental Protection for what was seen as its inadequate sewage system. The city then conducted a study that showed its existing sewer system was operating at above capacity in critical locations.

In 2016 the city adopted a moratorium to prevent new development or redevelopment that would increase sewer flow until additional capacity was provided.

“It’s so important for the function of the city to have a proper sewer system, and this is going to allow not only an improvement to the environment because it’s going to eliminate … our overflows, but it’s going to allow for additional development in the city,” City Manager Alex Rey said during the November 2020 groundbreaking for the project.

Sewer system improvements will cost the city an estimated $16,825,900, paid for with a $12,950,000 state revolving fund loan, $3,452,000 from 2015 debt proceeds and $423,900 in local reserve funds.

With construction of the sewer system, developers can come in now and file plans for multi-unit projects, Johnson said.

Developers looking to build apartment and hotel projects in St. Pete Beach are already taking notice.

In September 2020, developers of the proposed 6-story, 54 room Miramar Resort submitted their plan to transform a small aging 27-room motel into a luxury resort along Gulf Boulevard. The developers said they bought the property in 2017 and have been waiting for the building moratorium to end ever since.

Last month, another development group proposed building 243 residential units, called Corey Landing, at the east end of Corey Avenue.

Developers are able to complete the design, engineering, site plan and building processes while the sewer system is being installed. When the sewer system is completed by the end of the year, building projects are eligible for a certificate of occupancy.