Clearwater Council advances alternative Drew Street changes (2024)

CLEARWATER — The city will advance a plan to improve safety on Drew Street, just not the one that’s been in the works for the past six years.

The City Council voted unanimously on June 6 to advance the design of a project that primarily focuses on modifying three dangerous intersections within the east-west corridor, adding a center turn lane in a half-mile section and reducing lanes in the blocks closest to Coachman Park in downtown.

The plan replaces a concept first approved in 2018 that would have converted Drew Street from four travel lanes to two in the 2.3 miles between Osceola Avenue in downtown and Keene Road to the east and created a center turn lane for most of that portion.

The project will create left-turn lanes at intersections where crashes are most common, according to state officials. But without the extra space gained from eliminating a lane throughout the corridor, the revised plan does not include the full sidewalk expansion for pedestrians and cyclists, as originally envisioned.

The decision came down to a debate over what the majority of the community wants on the thoroughfare that runs through neighborhoods and connects downtown with the eastern portion of the city.

“It’s a long street, and we’re just trying to do what we can to satisfy the needs of all of the citizens of Clearwater and work toward the common goal to make Drew Street safer,” Mayor Bruce Rector said.

City Council member David Allbritton said he believes the 2018 concept, which was created through community workshops and validated by multiple traffic studies by the Florida Department of Transportation, was the best option. But outnumbered by a majority of new council members elected in March, Allbritton said he would vote for the revised plan to keep the project alive and retain $20 million in mostly federal funding for the work.

But he insisted that city and state officials incorporate speed mitigation strategies, especially in the residential section between Betty Lane and Saturn Avenue. That stretch, where drivers speed in traffic lanes that are too narrow and deficient sidewalks run close to traffic, has no slated improvements in the revised plan.

Allbritton called for nonsynchronized lighting of the traffic signals to slow drivers down, a reduction of the speed limit and police enforcement. He also wants a flashing pedestrian crosswalk to protect residents crossing Drew Street to get to Crest Lake Park.

“This is imperative to me,” Allbritton said. “This is the area that concerns this neighborhood the most.”

The former City Council affirmed the original lane elimination plan in April 2023. But amid concerns from some residents, chamber of commerce leaders and a then-minority of council members about effects on traffic flow and surrounding roads, state Sen. Ed Hooper inserted language in the state budget to require additional study.

That study showed the plan would reduce crashes without diverting significant traffic to surrounding roads. But it was also released during the election season for three City Council seats, making it a prominent campaign issue.

All three council members elected in March opposed the lane elimination and bested candidates who rallied for the concept. Rector and council member Lina Teixeira pointed to the election results as proof that most residents don’t want a lane eliminated on Drew Street.

Last month, when the new council discussed the project for the first time, citizens on both sides showed up to make their cases. Then, last week, residents submitted a petition with about 200 signatures advocating for the original lane elimination plan.

But Teixeira insisted there is a silent majority of people who opposed the original project but are reluctant to speak out due to fear of retaliation. The 2023 state study confirmed eliminating a lane on Drew Street would divert minimal traffic to surrounding roads, including two additional cars per minute to Gulf to Bay Boulevard, the city’s busiest east-west corridor.

Since 2015, Drew Street between Osceola Avenue and Keene Road has had 1,586 crashes, including 620 injuries — 55 of them serious injuries — and seven fatalities, according to county data. Drew Street has had a higher rate of crashes than Gulf to Bay when accounting for the volume of traffic, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

But Gulf to Bay has had more pedestrian deaths, and Teixeira said she feared a lane elimination on Drew Street could worsen that problem.

“We represent every single life in Clearwater, not just those on Drew,” Teixeira said.

In the new plan, the only center turn lane will be added in the half-mile between North Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Betty Lane, a change that will require widening the roadway. The city will be responsible for relocating underground utilities for the widening, which assistant city manager Dan Slaughter estimated could cost $12.8 million in a worst-case scenario.

He said costs will be confirmed when the state proceeds with the design work. The council on Thursday also agreed to create a capital funding plan to budget for the expenditure.

Public works director Marcus Williamson said these utilities are nearing their 50-year useful life and would need to soon be replaced with or without the Drew Street project.

Clearwater Council advances alternative Drew Street changes (2024)
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