CLEARWATER - The City Council approved the contract for Beach Walk Phase I construction during their December 15th meeting. The award of the $9.85 million contract to Westra Construction was expected; the disclosure of changes to Beach Walk's construction plans was not.
As the commencement of the Beach Walk, Hyatt and Patel construction projects has grown closer, the City has been meeting with the two developers in an effort to coordinate the three plans. Not surprisingly, some changes have come out of those meetings.
The City has focused on the issue of traffic flow during construction. The original plans called for maintaining six lanes of north/south through traffic throughout the entire period of construction. During Phase I, the six lanes will be distributed as two on Hamden, two on Gulfview, and two on Coronado.
During construction Phases II and III, Gulfview will carry no through traffic; four lanes of through traffic were planned on Coronado and two on Hamden for the total of six.
But Mahshid Arasteh, Clearwater's Public Works Administrator, dropped a bombshell on the Council during her presentation on Thursday. Coronado would be limited to three through lanes during Phase II (calendar year 2007), and part of Phase III (January 2008 through June 2008). Both the Hyatt and Patel resort projects had requested the use of the westernmost lane of Coronado adjacent to their properties for the placement of construction cranes.
Councilmember Bill Jonson was surprised; "Coronado sometimes gets incredibly busy. I don't know how we're going to get traffic through there," he said. After some discussion, he added, "I think we need to find another alternative; it just doesn't seem like it's going to be acceptable."
"We couldn't find any other solution," Arasteh said, "it's getting to the point that we'll probably have to let them use that area on Coronado."
Jonson's Council colleagues did not share his concern.
Council Member Hoyt Hamilton accepted the narrowing of Coronado. "As long as we're addressing the issues and have got the personnel out there directing traffic at the peak times - that's all we can do and that's all that people can reasonably expect of us," he said.
Mayor Frank Hibbard expressed an "ends justify the means" attitude, saying, "We are going to ask the public for patience, and this is going to be a three year birthing period at the end of which we're going to have a really beautiful baby. But it's going to be painful."
Council Member Doran observed "we've got six (lanes) and we're talking about 5, we're not talking about cutting the lanes in half, we're talking about giving up one lane of traffic for this time period." Contacted after the meeting, City Engineer Mike Quillen said that Hamden would have one southbound and one northbound lane; Coronado will be unbalanced, with two southbound lanes and one northbound. The narrowing of Coronado will result in a 33% reduction in northbound through lanes on south Clearwater Beach.
Doran also observed that the numbers of times when cars are not moving on the beach are very few, almost always during Spring Break, and lasting for only about two hours. "It has lasted about two hours for 20 to 30 years," he said, "and I think we can get through a couple of years more." But there's no guarantee that beach gridlock will follow its former patterns. After the Council meeting, the City's Engineering Department was asked to estimate impact on traffic flows that the narrowing of Coronado will have; City Engineer Quillen responded, "We can not predict this."
Jonson was unwilling to agree to the lane closure; "My struggle is: do we have contractual obligations to allow the contractors to use a portion of the four lanes for construction? And if we don't, then I think it's still open for discussion," he said.
City Manager Bill Horne responded, "We'll continue to work to try and address these issues, but I can not - don't put me in a straight jacket where I can't accomplish this project."
Council Member Carlen Petersen supported Horne, saying, "What I don't want to start doing now is micro-managing the experts on traffic control ... We're telling them 'do the best you can' and I think that's where we have to leave it."
Hibbard, who as a City Commissioner in 2004 railed against the private use of public right of way by the owners of small motels on Coronado, agreed with Petersen.
In the end, Jonson expressed his support for Beach Walk; "I was just blind-sided with something that disappointed me tonight," he said.
The Beach Walk construction project is set to begin with Phase I in January, involving Coronado Blvd, a new Second Street, and bypass lanes in front of the Patel and Hyatt projects on Gulfview. According to Ed Hooper, a spokesperson for the Patel project, the demolition of the Day's Inn will also occur in January.
Although Clearwater has no official flower or tree, some citizens are calling for a proclamation naming the Construction Crane as the Official Bird of the City of Clearwater.
Click here to view a streaming video of the Council Meeting discussion of the contract award and narrowing of Coronado..
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