Karen Seel Dubbed ‘Queen of U.S. 19’

The “Queen of U.S. 19,” aka Pinellas County Commission Chair Karen Seel, received a token of appreciation Dec. 16 from fellow commissioners and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Chair-elect John Morroni and Joe Blasewitz, U.S. 19 project administrator for Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. surprised the outgoing chair with a brick, found by Blasewitz, from the pre-1920, 16-foot wide section of U.S. 19 near Allen’s Creek. The brick road was replaced in the 1950s by a two-lane concrete road. It is now under construction for overpasses.

“Commissioner Seel, as you come to the end of your third BCC chairmanship and your second MPO/PPC chairmanship, we want to take a moment to recognize some of your accomplishments, specifically, improvements to U.S. 19,” Morroni said.

Morroni provided some history, beginning with Seel’s appointment to the county commission in 1999.

“As a new commissioner, you were filled with ambition, energy and high goals,” Morroni said.

At that time, more than 100,000 vehicles traveled U.S. 19 each day. Crashes were frequent, delays significant and “Pray for me, I drive U.S. 19” bumper stickers were common, Morroni said.

“In response to a perceived impossible situation, you created and chaired the U.S. 19 Task Force,” Morroni said. “In 2000, you assembled a group of political and business leaders and met for about two years. You took several trips to Washington D.C. to ask for specific funds to make U.S. 19 safer.”

Seel enlisted the help of the late Congressman Bill Young and more than $470 million was made available for safety improvements on what was “our most danger roadway,” Morroni said.

“You emphasized public participation, went on national TV to discuss the improvements on Dateline and carefully and intentionally worked with local governments and engaged our citizens,” Morroni said. “Together, ideas were gathered and a plan was formulated.”

That plan led to channelized or closed medians, construction of overpasses, installation of mile markers and connected sidewalks. Seel even convinced developers of Innisbrook to pay for their own traffic signal.

“It’s only fitting to present to you, ‘The Queen of U.S. 19,’ a piece of the road as a token of appreciation for your diligence,” Morroni said.

Seel continues her work on U.S. 19 to this day and is looking forward to the next project – Roosevelt Boulevard and the Gateway Connector.

“When it’s done, you’ll be able to travel from downtown St. Petersburg to the Countryside Mall without a traffic light,” she said.

This article originally featured on TBN Weekly. Written by Suzette Porter.