Commission struggling to find solution to complete north gap of Pinellas Trail

Pinellas County commissioners are struggling with a choice for the best route to complete a 6.8 mile segment of the Pinellas Trail that runs from Enterprise Road to John Chesnut Park. The public has objections to both Alignment A, which is on the Duke Energy property and Meadow Wood Drive, and Alignment B, which runs along Northside Drive and Countryside Boulevard.

LARGO — Pinellas County commissioners have two choices when it comes to the best alignment to complete a 6.8 mile segment of the Pinellas Trail that runs from Enterprise Road to John Chesnut Park. And there are objections to both of them.

County staff has been working to find the best path to fill the gap since November 2018. Many living near the proposed alignments have expressed concerns. Staff has narrowed the choices down to two. One would take the trail along Duke Energy property and the north side of Meadow Wood Drive where it would connect with Countryside Boulevard. The second choice takes it along the south side of Northside Drive and the east side of Countryside Boulevard.

At a workshop in June 2019, commissioners directed staff to proceed with the Northside Drive – Countryside Boulevard alignment unless there was a problem. The biggest problem continues to be the public, especially people who live near the proposed path.

Staff recommends the alignment that would take the trail down Meadow Wood Drive. It has lower speed limits, fewer street crossings, six versus nine, and the traffic volume is 336 compared with 3,527 on Northside Drive and Countryside Boulevard.

In the past four years, five crashes have been reported on Alignment A, which is on the Duke Energy property and Meadow Wood Drive, and 15 were reported on Alignment B, which runs along Northside Drive and Countryside Boulevard.

Alignment A has no shade and B is partially shaded with scenic views thanks to a golf course along the path. Cost for A is estimated at $700,000 and $1 million for B. However, Ken Jacobs, director of Transportation, cautioned that costs would be determined by the design once an alignment was more certain.

Objections to Alignment A include a loss of privacy as portions of the trail would be built close to homes. Residents are worried that crime would increase, although staff says that is not a problem in other areas of the trail. They also are concerned about a possible reduction in property values.

Objections to Alignment B include traffic concerns, including vehicle speeds, increase in traffic volumes and motorists using it as a cut-through from U.S. 19. Residents also are worried about the number of driveways and road crossings.

They are concerned about the effect on the trees and a pond in the area on Meadow Wood Drive. And the same as with Alignment A, they believe there will be a loss of privacy and reduced property values.

Commissioners would like to find a solution for Charteaux Woods Condominiums on Meadow Wood Drive, which backs up right to the trail. Residents say the area isn’t wide enough for the trail and it would greatly impact their privacy.

Staff suggested putting up a fence or hedge to separate the condos from the trail, but the residents say they don’t want to do that because it would make them feel as if they lived in a fortress. Other options include an intersection modification and use of a “cycle track,” which is separated two-way bicycle lanes.

Options for Alignment A also include use of a hedge or fence and share road markings to allow bicycles to use the roadways instead of the trail.

Commissions were divided on the best way to proceed, but in the end, Commissioners Janet Long, Kathleen Peters, Renee Flowers and Pat Gerard agreed that A would be the best solution. Staff was directed to move in that direction while continuing to work to find ways to reduce residents’ objections.

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