Public workshop set on proposed Palm Harbor roundabout, downtown master plan

Florida Department of Transportation is proposing installation of a roundabout at Alt. U.S. 19 and Florida Avenue to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

PALM HARBOR — Florida Department of Transportation and Pinellas County will host a joint public workshop Monday, Nov. 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Palm Harbor University High School, 1900 Omaha St, Palm Harbor, to talk about installing a roundabout on Alt. U.S. 19 and the new Downtown Palm Harbor Master Plan.

FDOT has been working with residents of Palm Harbor for years, looking for ways to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists at the intersection of Alt. U.S. 19 and Florida Avenue. Residents have asked for a traffic signal at that intersection since at least 2014; however, FDOT says the intersection does not qualify for a signal warrant.

A traffic signal warrant is a series of guidelines used to determine if a traffic signal should be considered at a location. The warranting conditions are based primarily on traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes and safety criteria.

In 2014, a study revealed that 21,500 vehicles per day traveled the roadway, which consists of two 11-foot through lanes with a center turn lane and bike lanes in both directions. The Pinellas Trail runs parallel along the west side.

FDOT had previously offered two improvement options: a traffic signal at Nebraska Avenue or a roundabout at Florida Avenue.

FDOT held two public workshops in 2015, and residents’ feedback showed that people didn’t like either option. However, of the two, more of the residents surveyed in December of that year, preferred the roundabout.

Since that time, FDOT constructed a mid-block crosswalk with flashing beacons, a refuge median island and added overhead street lighting to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists trying to cross Alt. U.S. 19. In August 2018, the existing rectangular rapid flashing beacons were activated.

FDOT still favors the concept of a roundabout for the Florida Avenue intersection, according to Craig Fox, FDOT design project manager. The Nov. 4 workshop will allow the public to get more information and express opinions. The project is not currently funded.

Fox presented an update about the project at a Sept. 11 Forward Pinellas meeting and answered questions.

He said if FDOT installed a roundabout, the existing crossing with flashing beacons would be removed and new crosswalks would be installed, which would have flashing beacons. Pinellas Trail would be shifted to the west. The sculptures located in the right-of-way would be relocated.

The proposed roundabout would not be able to accommodate 18-wheelers, he said; however, large trucks aren’t allowed on Florida Avenue. Larger vehicles, such as a truck with boat trailer, buses and fire trucks would be able to make all the turns, he said.

FDOT has since clarified that statement in an email saying, “18-wheelers can go through the roundabout but they can’t turn from Alt. 19 to Florida Avenue. However, since our truck movement analysis is conservative, if an 18-wheeler had to make a right turn, they can make it while using the mountable truck apron. The roundabout is not designed to accommodate left turns however."

The roundabout would make motorists slow down, Fox said, and a roundabout should help ease traffic from and onto Florida Avenue, where it is currently difficult to make a left turn onto Alt. U.S. 19

Residents unable to attend the Nov. 4 meeting can look ahead to a virtual public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 9, which will be held at FDOT’s District 7 headquarters in Tampa and a Palm Harbor location, which has not yet been announced. FDOT will post a link to the virtual public hearing and other details closer to the date. A mailer will be sent to properties near the project.

For more information, including information about the new Downtown Palm Harbor master plan, visit http://www.pinellascounty.org/downtownpalmharbor/.

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

Revised to clarify the ability of 18-wheelers to use the roundabout.