OLDSMAR – Pinellas County officials recently held a town hall meeting to answer questions about the proposed Forest Lakes Boulevard reconstruction and widening project.
The $12.7 million plan to widen a stretch of Forest Lakes Boulevard from west of Pine Avenue to west of Race Track Road by adding an 11-foot lane in each direction has been in the works for more than a decade, according to Pinellas County engineering section manager Greg Cutrone, and thanks to the Penny for Pinellas tax, the long gestating Capital Improvement Project has finally moved to the implementation stage.
“This project has been in the making for the last 10 years,” Cutrone said during the informal workshop, which was held at the Oldsmar Council Chambers on June 28. “We’ve already had the permits for the widening, and we did conduct a traffic study and it was identified for even wider lanes. But we refined the numbers and we believe this project, which also adds shoulders on both sides of the road, will greatly enhance the traffic flow on Forest Lakes.”
The project is scheduled to start in October and take approximately 30 months to complete. It reportedly will feature a full roadway reconstruction, milling and resurfacing, and widening of Forest Lakes Boulevard from a two-lane to a four-lane suburban divided highway to add capacity and reduce congestion.
Other aspects of the project include drainage improvements; a 5-foot shoulder that can be used as a bike lane; new sidewalks in certain locations within the projects limits; and upgrading the existing signalized intersections at Pine Avenue and Brooker Creek Boulevard. The city of Oldsmar will contribute $400,000 toward the total cost of $12,705,200 for the relocation of some utility lines in the project area.
While some residents have voiced concern about a potential increase in speeding in the area due to the wider roadway, project officials said the opposite in fact was true.
“There is no connection between going from two lanes to four lanes as far as speeding,” Cutrone stated. “It doesn’t make it worse, in fact it actually improves it.”
Transportation engineer Zachary Sarver supported Cutrone’s claim.
“People think when you see more pavement you tend to speed, but no, the two are not related,” he said. “Plus, the existing (lane) widths are being reduced from 12 (feet) to 11 (feet), so drivers will be less apt to speed.”
One nearby resident said the need to widen the road should override the concern about speeding.
“I’m not concerned about the speeding because you can’t speed during the busy times and if you do, the sheriff’s always there with the radar,” Barbara Williams, who lives in a subdivision off Forest Lakes, said. “So, there’s ways to control speed, but I’m happy about the widening because it’s been a long time coming.”
Although the effect of the project on speeding is debatable, what’s not in question is that the amount of congestion on the road is increasing and is projected to get worse.
According to traffic studies presented by Sarver, Forest Lakes Boulevard averaged 23,000 vehicles daily, in both directions, in 2016; that number is projected to increase to 24,600 by the end of 2019 and jump up to 35,000 daily drivers in 2039.
“It’s clear that the traffic that’s already there is way more than two lanes can handle,” Oldsmar City Manager Al Braithwaite said. “This project was desperately needed and has been a long time coming and we need to do whatever we need to do to make it a reality, because you’ll see traffic will flow a lot better when it’s done.”
A couple that lives near the area agreed something had to be done to improve congestion on the road.
“The traffic is so heavy and slow, especially at this time of day, it took us 30 minutes to get here and we live a few miles away,” said Linda Williams, who along with her husband, Forrest, live in the Tuscany Woods subdivision at the intersection of Forest Lakes and Pine. “So, we’re pretty adamant this is a problem and we need to do something about it. I think the widening is a good thing.”
“When it was built Forest Lakes Boulevard wasn’t big enough, so I think this is a great idea that will affect a lot of people,” Forrest Williams said, adding, “It’s really needed, and it’s been needed for a long time.”
Two Oldsmar lawmakers agreed.
“I think long term it’s a great thing, and you can’t dismiss the fact that the county is investing $12 million and the city is investing $400,000,” Council member Eric Seidel said. “It’s a good investment for the citizens.”
Mayor Doug Bevis added, “I think it’s obviously something that was needed because you have four lanes on either side before it goes down to two, so it makes sense from a continuity standpoint.”
Asked about the potential for an increase in speeding, the mayor said “the biggest thing is going to be law enforcement monitoring the speed. You can only go as fast as traffic will allow.”