“We have a lot of traffic problems on Highway 98. But (the upcoming work) is really going to be a tweaking. It's not going to solve all of our problems.”

DESTIN – The planned expansion of U.S. Highway 98 between Airport Road in Destin and the border area of Okaloosa and Walton counties is "a move in the right direction," Destin Mayor Scott Fischer said Friday.

A $33.3 million Florida Department of Transportation project that includes widening this four-lane, 3.8-mile-long stretch of the highway to six lanes is set to start this summer and be completed in the fall of 2020.

The project also will include adding bicycle lanes and new sidewalks on each side of the road, installing a new signal at the Indian Bayou Trail/Restaurant Row intersection, upgrading existing traffic signals and making drainage improvements.

FDOT officials invite the public to learn more about the project during a meeting set for 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday at Grace Lutheran Church, 4325 Commons Drive West, Destin. 

“We’re hoping to ease congestion and more importantly, increase safety in that area,” FDOT District 3 spokesman Ian Satter said. “Along the 98 corridor, we’ve seen a significant amount of growth and with that, increased traffic.”

Fischer said the city of Destin welcomes any improvements the FDOT is able to make.

“We have a lot of traffic problems on Highway 98,” he said. “But (the upcoming work) is really going to be a tweaking. It’s not going to solve all of our problems.”

While the project will enable better traffic flow up to Airport Road, there will be more traffic backups to Marler Bridge, he said.

“That’s going to be the problem, with the traffic flow going from six lanes back down to four lanes,” Fischer said.

He said a possible FDOT study could look at ways of decreasing traffic congestion from Airport Road to the bridge and maybe even farther west.

While Fischer said the upcoming highway expansion should help improve the travel of drivers heading south from the Mid-Bay Bridge on “moderate” traffic days, he indicated that it won’t make much of a difference during periods of heavy traffic.

The forthcoming project will connect with the FDOT's ongoing expansion of U.S. 98 between Emerald Bay Drive in Okaloosa County and Tang O Mar Drive in Walton County.

Work to widen this 3.6-mile portion of highway to six lanes began last fall and could be completed in the summer of 2019. This overall $42.1 million project includes adding bike lanes and sidewalks, installing new traffic signals, constructing four stormwater detention ponds and making drainage improvements.

In February, the FDOT began $2.5 million worth of drainage system repairs along westbound U.S. 98 between Airport Road and Gulf Shore Drive. This project could be completed by July.