'IT'S NOT THE ROAD': City to install flashing warning beacons along Airport Road curve

Matt Algarin
The curve in Airport Road, near the Destin Airport, has seen its fair share of wrecks over the years. This wreck saw a vehicle come awfully close to the fuel trucks at the airport.

After studying the Airport Road curve, the city's public works/public safety committee says drivers are more than likely to blame for the accidents along the stretch of roadway, not the curve.

"We started looking at it very seriously about six months ago, eight months ago," said Nancy Weidenhamer, chairman of the volunteer committee. "It's not the road."

During their study of the portion of Airport Road, Weidenhamer told city leaders that there were no noticeable flaws in the road or road surface. Several of the committee members have driven the road in a variety of vehicles, she said, and in each case they were able to navigate the curve safely while driving the speed limit.

Over the years, there have been a multitude of wrecks along the 1000 block of Airport Road, which has seen everything from a minor spin out in the rain to completely overturned vehicles and cars crashing through the Destin Airport's fences. According to records from the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, there have been 25 motor vehicle accidents in this particular area over the past year.

During Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Weidenhamer presented a plan to combat some of the issues that have been taking place at the curve on Airport Road.

As part of the plan, city crews will install flashing amber-colored beacons on the existing warning signs along the approach of the curve in both directions. The committee also suggested reducing the speed limit from 35 mph through the curve to 25 mph.

"We feel that's the least invasive way to go," Weidenhamer said of the beacons that would flash 24-hours-a-day.

And while the public works/public safety committee wants to increase the warnings for motorists, not everyone thought the changes were the ultimate solution.

Councilman Larry Williges told his colleagues that the problem wasn't the roadway, but drivers traveling too fast. He said deputies have caught motorists taking the curve at 55 mph.

"I don't know that there is any answer to it," he said of possible enforcement options. "If we could just get people to slow down on that road it would be good."

Mayor Sam Seevers agreed.

"I can drive that curve and be going 35 mph and my car can go around it just fine," she said. "We're spending money and putting up lights and all this for people that have been drinking. I don't know that you are ever going to stop them."

"If we can't stop that issue, we are just going to have a bunch of flashing lights," she added.

Seevers said she had been contacted by a property owner that lived along the curve on Airport Road that wasn't happy about the idea of the flashing beacons.

"We just felt we needed to try something," Weidenhamer said.

For Councilman Jim Foreman, the proposed changes were a step in the right direction, even though he said most people don't pay attention to the signs.

"I think it's worthy of taking some action," he said. "Maybe you will save somebody's life in the course of it."

When it came time for city leaders to vote on the proposal, they were all in, voting unanimously to enter into a contract with Temple, Inc. in the amount of $4,100 to purchase the beacons using gas tax funds.