CLEARWATER — Navigating U.S. 19 may become even more challenging for some motorists after crews permanently close a large intersection at Harn Boulevard tonight.
But officials with the Florida Department of Transportation promise life will get easier very soon for commuters in this perpetual work zone traveled by tens of thousands of vehicles each day.
Contractors are on track to get cars onto the new multilane highway by October, a major step in a five-year project to accelerate traffic flow on U.S. 19 between Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Whitney Road.
That will mean no traffic lights all the way from Mainlands Boulevard in Pinellas Park to Republic Drive in Clearwater, DOT officials say.
Tonight, crews are scheduled to place concrete barriers along the inside of the frontage roads to block traffic on Harn Boulevard from crossing U.S. 19 so work can commence on that section of the highway.
The intersection will be a right-turn-only onto the frontage road, with on-ramps to U.S. 19 around Seville Boulevard.
With Pinellas County schools resuming Monday, motorists can expect additional gridlock along the highway and surrounding side roads.
“There’s usually an increase of traffic during school. That’s just a fact of life,” said Joe Blasewitz, a DOT construction project manager.
Improvements to this section of U.S. 19 started in 2009 and the project is expected to be finished by next spring.
Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott announced an extra $4.8 million in incentives for contractors to get traffic on the road by October and finish the job completely by March.
In April, contractors hit the first of three milestones laid out by the governor, moving traffic in both directions onto new southbound lanes.
By October, traffic signals should be removed from all parts of the construction area and vehicles should be traveling freely in all the new lanes.
“That is the goal we are working hard to reach,” Blasewitz said.