The Mid-Bay Bridge Authority reminds Okaloosa County residents and Mid-Bay Bridge customers to expect heavy congestion on and around the Mid-Bay Bridge on Saturdays during the peak tourism season, generally from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says tourists are increasingly flocking to the state for vacations. Domestic visitors to Florida hit record numbers last year — nearly 113 million in 2016 — and that trend is continuing in the first three months of this year.
A recent Visit Florida tourism survey determined that of the 4.1 million domestic visitors to Okaloosa County in 2015, 48 percent (or almost 2 million people) traveled during the peak summer travel season.
Destin is the No. 2 drive-to destination in the state, according to the Destin Chamber of Commerce. The population grows by up to 85,000 people during its peak summer season, with the vast majority of visitors arriving and departing on Saturdays. This growth represents a 700 percent increase from Destin's normal population.
The Mid-Bay Bridge Authority wants to remind residents that as the peak tourism season approaches and with only three ways to enter Destin — U.S. Highway 98 from the east and west and State Road 293 south via the bridge — travelers should expect delays and plan accordingly.
With most accommodation checkouts being on Saturday mornings, northbound traffic across the Mid-Bay Bridge and through the toll plaza will become congested from early morning to about noon.
Conversely, with most accommodation check-ins occurring on Saturday afternoons, traffic along all approaches to Destin will become congested and result in considerable delays. Motorists should expect the southbound lanes of the Spence Parkway approaching the Mid-Bay Bridge toll plaza to be congested from late morning to about 7 p.m. on Saturdays. If possible, travel to Destin should be made either before or after the peak period noted above.
The Mid-Bay Bridge Authority has and will continue to investigate various ways to improve traffic flow near the toll plaza, but the volume of traffic that merges into a single southbound lane on the bridge exceeds the capacity of the system.