Fort Harrison Avenue may take on new role
Shifting Alt. U.S. 19 to Myrtle Avenue, however, would require cooperation from both the state and federal governments.
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2000
CLEARWATER -- City engineers want to redirect car and truck traffic moving through downtown to an improved Myrtle Avenue, shifting the cars away from Fort Harrison Avenue, downtown's busy north-south route.
To do that, Clearwater officials asked the Florida Department of Transportation this week to give the city control of Fort Harrison and to move the state's designated route for Alt. U.S. 19 to Myrtle.
If the state agrees, said City Manager Mike Roberto, it 'would change the whole character" of what the city could do with Fort Harrison.
The city would love to reduce Fort Harrison to two lanes, with a center turn lane, and beautify the road, Roberto said. City officials also want to be able to shut down Fort Harrison regularly to hold street festivals in the heart of downtown.
Roberto has discussed the idea privately with some commissioners, who are supportive.
'I think it's a great idea," said Commissioner Ed Hart. 'But to me, this is sort of long-range future planning, rather than something that is on the horizon in the very near future."
Said Commissioner Bob Clark: 'The general concept I'm very much in favor of, but I haven't seen any of these details."
But officials caution that there would need to be a lot more public debate, as well as tough negotiations with the state, before the ideas could become reality. The city's plans might even be a long shot, officials said.
'It's a long uphill climb, I have a feeling," said City Engineer Mike Quillen. 'So any configuration we suggest now is still just talk."
In addition to negotiating with the state DOT officials, the city also will have to work with federal transportation planners to reroute traffic, Quillen said. The state oversees the upkeep of Alt. U.S. 19, but the road is part of the federal highway system.
City officials wish they could make the road changes when the state resurfaces Fort Harrison in 2002, Quillen said.
But state officials already are concerned that the city wants northbound drivers on the proposed Alt. U.S. 19 route to take a harsh right turn on Lakeview Road to get to Myrtle Avenue, said DOT spokesman Ron Winter.
'We'll have to look at a lot of things about what kind of street we'd be moving to," Winter said. 'What condition is it in. Myrtle is a more residential street. . . . This isn't unprecedented, but it will have to be reviewed."
The city has been toying with changing traffic flow on Fort Harrison and Myrtle for several years. County traffic counts in 1999 showed about 12,000 cars travel Myrtle daily, compared with 17,600 to 25,500 cars moving along Fort Harrison.
The segment of Alt. U.S. 19 that would be reassigned to Myrtle would run from Lakeview Road north to a point where Myrtle and Fort Harrison converge.
Previous plans suggested making Fort Harrison and Myrtle into primarily one-way streets, with three lanes of traffic in one direction and single lanes of traffic headed the opposite way. That idea is dead, Quillen said, because of state road rules.