The Gulf Breeze City Council approved a portion of the major interchange design for State Road 399 and U.S. 98, clearing one step for the city to begin collaborating with the Florida Department of Transportation in overhauling the traffic pinch point at the area that combines heavy highway traffic with cars going to and from Pensacola Beach.
After hearing a presentation from McKim and Creed, the engineering firm the city contracted with in November 2019 to look at how the overhaul may be possible, the council discussed its options and which design would be best for easing traffic at the interchange.
The council said they liked the idea of a flyover and roundabout combination that would let cars travel east and west on U.S. 98 without being interrupted by beach traffic, but they weren’t on board with a traffic plan that would put cars leaving the beach through the roundabout.
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“I like the flyover of U.S. 98 going over and traffic being able to flow through it, I just think it needs to be worked on more with the traffic coming off the beach and the merging of the lanes,” said Councilman J.B. Schluter. “I just think that circle’s (the roundabout) too tight, or something’s not right, I just think that needs to be looked at. But I like the east to west flow, I like the flow to the beach, I like the flow coming off the beach heading east, but the other part of it (the flow coming off the beach to the west) I don’t like.”
The council said their three main priorities for the interchange were to ease traffic congestion, provide a multi-modal means of transportation that would connect the north and south ends of the city bisected by U.S. 98, and create develop-able green space that will allow some of the city’s biggest economic drivers like AppRiver and the Andrews Institute to expand.
“I think the kind of businesses that (City Manager Samantha Abell) talked about, like healthcare and technology, those are the kind of things that make a city really better and draws the kind of people that make the city better,” said Councilman Todd Torgersen.
The council also expressed support for two multi-use overpass pathways that will go over U.S. 98, which will be available for pedestrians on foot, bikes and golf carts. The city passed a long-awaited golf cart ordinance in February 2019, but golf carts are not allowed on U.S. 98. The multi-use pathways would allow golf cart drivers to crisscross U.S. 98 without actually getting on the busy highway.
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The pedestrian overpasses could be located on U.S. 98, by the Flowerama and the Walmart Neighborhood Market and also by the Publix shopping center. The council could approve one overpass or both overpasses, as well as a revamp of the existing pedestrian overpass at Gulf Breeze High School.
City staff will go back to the drawing board with McKim and Creed to determine how to proceed with westbound traffic leaving the beach, while FDOT officially kicks off its study of the interchange on Tuesday.
The city will coordinate with FDOT and the Emerald Coast Regional Planning Council for the next several years as the project moves forward, and to determine how to fund the project, which could have a price tag of more than $24 million.
Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.