BELLEAIR BLUFFS – Plans for a West Bay Drive improvement project are being revised, stemming from concerns and comments expressed by some local government officials.
Belleair Blufffs commissioners’ comments on the project, which is part of a Complete Streets program sponsored by Forward Pinellas for major roads throughout Pinellas County, were similar to those heard from the Belleair Beach City Council following a presentation of the plan there in October.
Commissioner Suzy Sofer, who had spoken out strongly last month against the smaller traffic lanes and addition of bike lanes alongside, said Nov. 13 she had been under the impression the project was in the conception stage.
“But now I realize it is further along than we realize” as it is scheduled for next year, Sofer said.
“I don’t think any of us are fans of narrowing the lanes,” she said.
Commissioners Sofer, Taylour Shimkus and City Clerk Debra Sullivan said they had received emails and phone calls from residents who had concerns about the West Bay project.
Sullivan and Mayor Chris Arbutine said a bike lane would be better suited to some of the city’s secondary roads, rather than busy West Bay Drive.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do this,” Sofer said. “We just want to make sure they do it properly.”
Arbutine said he wanted to reach out to “all the players” – FDOT, the county highway department, Forward Pinellas Executive Director Whit Blanton, County Commissioner Karen Seel and Largo officials – to further discuss the street plan for West Bay Drive and relay Belleair Bluffs’ concerns.
The Complete Streets plan affects West Bay from Clearwater-Largo Road to the Belleair Beach Bridge.
The section of West Bay Drive affected by the plan is designed as a five-lane highway with sidewalks directly adjacent to the traffic lanes, Largo Mayor Woody Brown said.
The road was designed with little regard for pedestrians, aesthetics or the neighborhoods that line both sides, he said.
“I am excited to see the plan in January. If the plan improves the quality of life for our residents and improves pedestrian accessibility without reducing the capacity for vehicles, I’m all for it, he said.
Blanton said Nov. 15 the county had plans to do a resurfacing project in 2018, but Pinellas Forward initiated the Complete Streets concept prior to the resurfacing to make some recommendations to the county.
In an email Nov. 16 based on feedback from the West Bay businesses, city staff and officials, citizens and technical advisory committees, staff presented the findings and recommendations to the Forward Pinellas Board. The board’s preferred option, consistent with input from the committees and local stakeholders, entails a wide sidewalk on one side of the road, additional mid-block crossings, and additional landscaping, made possible by slightly reducing the five lane
cross-section from 12-feet lanes to 11-feet and 10-feet lanes. Pinellas Forward transmitted the board’s preference to Pinellas County Public Works for consideration in the design of the resurfacing improvements.
“So not as much narrowing as we showed in the original proposal and still accommodate the recommended alternative,” he said in a phone conversation.
As a result of continuing dialogue and feedback from the communities along the roadway concerned with the narrower travel lanes, Forward Pinellas and Pinellas County Public Works will be working with each of the affected municipalities to determine the ultimate configuration of this road, Blanton said.
“We have heard the concerns from residents and officials that this would make businesses and residential areas less safe and accessible for those who use cars, trucks or trailers, and we want to have further conversation to reach a consensus on a plan that addresses those concerns, whether that is the original Complete Streets concept plan or another. As a result, the resurfacing project is on hold until this coordination is done,”Blanton said in the email.
Once an agreement between all the partners has been reached, Pinellas County will then move forward with the resurfacing project and will make sure everyone is in the loop on the configuration of the roadway.
“We are still in the coordination phase right now and no final configuration has ,been decided,” Blanton wrote.
He said in the phone conversation that the Pinellas Trail does not have a good connection to the beach or to the retail center at Indian Rocks Beach and West Bay Drive.
“I’m just looking from an economic development and safety standpoint what’s the best way to connect those and provide accommodations for all users,” he said.
He will make a presentation on Complete Streets to Largo officials at a Jan. 9 City Commission work session and will have meetings with other cities.