NICEVILLE — A couple of popular "short-cuts" for vacationers making their way to Destin will be short-circuited by Okaloosa County officials beginning on the Memorial Day weekend and continuing through the Labor Day weekend.
The new traffic plan could get a trial run during the upcoming Easter weekend, according to county Public Works Director Jason Autrey.
For the upcoming vacation season, the southbound exit from the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector to North Lakeshore Drive will be blocked from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, according to Autrey. Additionally, traffic will not be allowed to turn south from White Point Road onto the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector on Saturdays from noon until 6 p.m.
Those hours, and that day, were chosen because that is routinely when vacationers are heading into Destin to check into their hotel rooms and condominiums, jamming the Mid-Bay Connector, Autrey said.
"Last year, it really came to a head," he said.
Four sheriff's deputies will be on duty in the area to monitor and enforce the traffic changes.
For the past several years digital traffic apps have sent many vacationers down White Point Road near Niceville as a supposed alternative to the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector (also known as Spence Parkway), which funnels traffic onto the tolled Mid-Bay Bridge and on to Destin.
However, residents have long complained about vacationers using White Poitn Road as a cut-through.
Ultimately, White Point Road, which meets the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector near the bridge, has been a poor alternative as its traffic merges with connector traffic. During vacation season, residents off White Point Road have seen their street blocked by travelers waiting to get onto the Connector.
Also, many southbound travelers using the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector routinely have exited at North Lakeshore Drive and then tried to get back on the Connector from the North Lakeshore exit to leap-frog traffic.
North Lakeshore Drive also provides access to White Point Road.
Signs will be posted on White Point Road warning vacationers that they won't be able to turn right onto the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector during the posted hours. Those who do venture down the road will have to turn back north on the Connector, and drive past North Lakeshore Drive to the State Road 20 interchange to get back on the Connector, Autrey said.
Local officials previously have tried to deal with the congestion on and around the Mid-Bay Bridge Connector, but their latest proposed solution brought together Autrey, the Sheriff's Office and the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority. The authority had not been involved in previous discussions, Autrey said.
Many residents in the White Point Road area already have heard an outline of the plan, said County Commissioner Kelly Windes, whose district iincludes that area.
"They like the sound of it," Windes said. But, he added, "It's not going to please everybody."
In an interview Wednesday, Windes expressed interest in a couple other strategies to reduce vacation-related congestion: staggering check-in times for hotels and condominiums, and instituting a "pay-by-plate" toll collection system that would photograph license plates and bill the vehicle owner. That would eliminate the need for the toll plaza at the north end of the bridge.
According to Autrey, it's possible that the current schedule for barricading the North Lakeshore Drive exit and the southern end of White Point Road could change. If the situation warrants, the barricades could be put up or taken down earlier or later in the day, he said.
As for the overall plan, "We had to try something," Autrey said.