Merchants Decry Ulmerton Road Construction
Nine months into the three-year widening project, many business owners have complaints.
With most major road projects, merchants in the immediate area can be greatly affected by the work being done, losing business due to inaccessibility or the desire of patrons to steer clear of the construction zone.
But nine months into a major road-widening project on Ulmerton Road, some Largo business owners are more upset by the massive scale of the project, the attitude of construction workers, and the perception that there is no end in sight than they are with the loss of revenue.
“I was threatened by Pinellas County Utilities for obstructing my (water) meter; they said they couldn’t read it,” said Santo Sardo, who has owned Sardo's Pizza at Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard for the past seven years. “There were two construction cranes blocking the meter, and they threatened me because they couldn’t read it?”
“The workers have been extremely rude and inconsiderate, walking around cursing in front of customers," he added. "I took a picture of sleeping workers and sent them to (project) officials.”
These are a few of the myriad complaints Sardo has regarding the widening project, which began in August and is projected to cost about $60 million by the time it's completed in 2015.
In addition to these claims, Sardo said a crew accidently painted the tire of one of his employees’ cars.
Combined with the holes in front of his shop, the uneven pavement and lack of a sidewalk for pedestrians, Sardo, who said he is losing about $250 a day in revenue, is at his wits' end with the whole project.
"I'm not concerned for myself," he said. "I'm worried someone's going to get hurt."
Chiropractor Cliff Zurkan of Bay Area Chiropractic strongly agrees with his next-door neighbor.
"It's dangerous for people walking up and down here," Zurkan said. "The plans for sidewalks are still developing, so it doesn't make a lot of sense."
Like Sardo, Zurkan is frustrated with the scope of the construction and the length of the project.
“When they do projects like this, they need to do it in a quick and efficient manner," he said. "Do the whole street, or part of the street, and get it done, not four or five streets at once."
“They’ve already been here a year, and now they’re saying two more," Zurkan said. "If it could be done in a timely manner, that’s one thing. But to say it’s going to take two more years, that’s crazy. You want to see a conclusion.”
Roadwork Is Having a Ripple Effect
Around the corner on Seminole Boulevard, even businesses located away from the main construction zone are feeling the effects of the work.
"Last October, I was excited because business was up, and I was excited heading into season," Kathy Mezines, owner of Widow Brown's Restaurant & Tavern, said by phone. "But as soon as they put up the blocks closing off one lane in front of my place, it killed my lunch and dinner business."
"A lot of our clientele is older, and now it's very difficult to get in and out," she said. "If it happens to them once, that's all it takes. They won't come back."
Mezines, whose family has owned the eatery since 1978, said she doesn't want to complain because she realizes some people are in worse situations than she is.
But at the same time, she doesn't understand why the construction had to creep so far into her area, and why there is such a widespread swath of unfinished work.
"Why don't they start one section and then finish it before moving to the next one?" she asked. "They are affecting so many people the way they are doing this."
Vehicle Traffic Driving Down Foot Traffic
East of Seminole Boulevard near the entrance to Largo Mall, officials at Casual Male XL said their main complaint is the traffic out front, which can be backed up for lengthy periods, and workers parking in front of their store.
“People are daredeviling in the intersection, stopping in the middle and blocking the road because they don’t want to get stuck at the light,” assistant manager Kevin Taylor said.
“Between that and the workers parking out front … I’d say our foot traffic has definitely been affected,” he said.
Despite the complaints, the merchants realize this is the price you pay for working in a high-traffic area that needs a major road overhaul.
But according to Sardo, a little cooperation could make the whole ordeal go a lot smoother.
“We need communication from them. Why not talk to us, why not work with us? If we could work together, think how much better things would be.”