City leaders plan for a wider Hwy. 98 in the next decade

Matt Algarin
Some city councilors would like to see a traffic signal installed at the U.S. Hwy. 98 and Indian Bayou Trail intersection. There is currently a lack of funding available to make improvements to the roadway as part of the Hwy. 98 widening project.

Whether it’s speed limits or the location of traffic lights, there are still plenty of details to work out ahead of the proposed U.S. Hwy. 98 widening project.

“We as a council need to come to a consensus about what we want,” Councilman Cyron Marler said.

During the city’s recent pedestrian safety workshop, city leaders were briefed on the current state of the project, which would make improvements, including six-laning Hwy. 98, from Airport Road to the Walton County line.

As it stands now, 60 percent of the project, which is broken into three phases, has been designed. Improvements will be made to seven signalized intersections, which include a new signal at Hwy. 98 and Indian Bayou Trail; the addition of 4-foot bicycle lanes; ADA compliant sidewalks and handrails; and landscaping improvements throughout the medians.

While the actual project is still years from construction, Councilman Jim Wood said the city is watching developments closely.

“It’s not in FDOT’s 5-year work plan, but it’s in our long-range plans at the city,” Councilman Jim Wood, who also serves on the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization, told The Log.

Looking at the project itself, there are some hang-ups, which most importantly begin with funding and the acquisition of much-needed right-of-way. Funding isn’t expected to become available until 2017 or 2018.

Another concern is the proposed northernmost traffic lane that would act as a right-hand turn lane/travel lane to access businesses such as The Track. A similar lane already exists from and stretches from the Destin Commons area to Indian Bayou Trail.

While the proposed lane would help move traffic along without as much stop and go, Wood told his colleagues that it could be dangerous.

“At Indian Bayou Trail, you will watch cars changing lanes at the last minute because they don’t realize that lane ends,” Wood said.

Signage would be used to warn motorists of the upcoming lane ending, according to engineers on the project.

“There’s some tweaks to the design that are needed,” said a representative from Michael Baker Jr. Inc., a Miramar Beach-based engineering and consulting firm.

The final project design is expected to wrap up in August 2013, and a series of meetings will be held in January and March to update the public on the proposed project.

“We’re not even 10 years off in my mind,” Wood said. “This is something to stay tuned to in the future.”