'It has to be worked out': Pedestrian safety along U.S. Hwy 98 a priority

Matt Algarin

Could routing pedestrian traffic off the busy highway be the answer to safely crossing "Bloody 98?"

Destin resident Christine Clark thinks so, and while she's not re-inventing the wheel with her idea, she told city leaders during Monday night's City Council meeting that pedestrian safety should be priority No. 1.

As part of her presentation, Clark proposed expanding the already existing boardwalk and running underneath the Marler Bridge, connecting it with the existing sidewalk along Calhoun Avenue.

“This wasn’t my idea; about 10 years ago you guys dreamed this up,” she said. “My request is that we look at making this a top priority.”

Currently, Clark said, pedestrians mainly cross the roadway at the Stahlman Avenue and Hwy. 98 intersection, which is signalized.

"From a pedestrian standpoint, it's not the most family friendly crossing," she said, adding that there is an average traffic count of 45,000 cars in the area near HarborWalk Village.

She also added that there are many people who do not cross at a signal, given the distance between lights in the harbor district.

Developer Claude Perry also spoke to the dangers of the area and the lack of safe crossing opportunities. He told city leaders that they spent quite a bit of money to build the Marler Street parking lot, but it's not being used properly because it's difficult for cars to get in and out.

“You voted 7-0 to have a light at Marler Street, but for some reason it has completely stopped; no progress has been made,” he said. “The property owners agreed to put up $100,000 toward the cost to this light.”

As for routing traffic under the bridge, Perry was all for it.

“Someone getting killed is not going to be easily overcome,” he said. “This idea is a great idea; you discussed this 10 years ago.”

Jeremy Merrill, a representative from McGuire's, told the council that he's witnessed someone be struck by a car and killed firsthand while trying to cross the roadway.

"For the safety of everyone, I urge you guys to go for this," he said.

There were no motions made by the council Monday night, but they did acknowledge that pedestrian safety was a priority, despite some challenges.

"Somehow it has to be worked out, but we'll do it," Councilwoman Sandy Trammell said.