Congestion nightmare: New Clearwater apartments cause traffic concerns

Posted at 5:11 PM, May 08, 2018

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drivers in Clearwater worried about traffic becoming much worse as two big apartment complexes go up along the US-19 access road. They worry the developments will make a frustrating situation ten times worse.

“At 5:00? Forget it,” a disgruntled Maureen Winters, explained, her patience growing thin. “Once those apartments start filling up, I'm never going to get near the road I want to get near which is Belleair Road.”

Lauretta Wilson-Atima feels her pain. “It's extreme annoyance,” she exclaimed.

Traffic on the US-19 frontage road is already congested on the stretch between Bellair and Gulf to Bay, and that’s before you even consider what’s just around the corner — two big apartment complexes. 

“Oh, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better, and it’s never going to get better," Winters added.

The first apartment complex near the US-19 frontage road and Bellair is called the Vue at Bellair, and will open later this summer with 339 apartments and will generate 2,254 additional trips per day, according to Clearwater Traffic Operations Manager Paul Bertels. 

Just a few blocks away, crews are clearing land to make way for the Bainbridge Bayside, which is another 360 unit apartment building, opening this December, that will generate an extra 2,394 daily trips by residents. 

Combined, Clearwater officials believe it will mean at least an extra 433 cars on the US-19 access road during evening rush hour, which in some areas narrows to one lane.

Lauretta Wilson lives smack dab between the two new apartment complexes.

“I get very frustrated and I say who are the road engineers? Did they think this through?,” Wilson-Atima said in anguish.

Bertels admits its a big problem and his Clearwater traffic department, as well as Pinellas County's traffic unit, have already been in contact with Florida Department of Transportation.

Bertels admits the issue stems from the US-19 overpasses. He says when they were constructed, several businesses shut their doors because they saw fewer customers. The vacant land left behind is now becoming apartments. 

“Nobody imagined that when the access road was built," Bertels elaborated. 

Since FDOT used all of their right of way when they built the access roads, Bertels explained there isn’t enough land to add another lane. 

It's frustrating for Wilson-Atima who is forced to face the congestion head-on. “How long am I going to wait to pull out of my condo? Will I be able to get out onto the road at all?" she said.

FDOT tells ABC Action News they are in the process of studying the congestion to see what can be done to help, but they stress all development decisions are made at the city and county level. That puts them in a bind when new projects drastically impact traffic.