FDOT begins U.S. 98 widening projects
The Florida Department of Transportation has begun a pair of projects to widen U.S. Highway 98 from four to six lanes.
The first project, which has already begun, is taking place along a 3.3-mile stretch of highway between Emerald Bay Drive in Okaloosa County and Tang O Mar Drive in Walton County, just east of the Silver Sands Premium Outlets.
Ian Satter, a spokesman for FDOT, said the project should be complete by the summer of 2020.
“The first thing we’re doing is constructing four stormwater retention ponds, and those ponds are actually off of U.S. 98,” Satter said. “And then we’ll get to work on the other stuff, which is widening it to six lanes, adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and some other traffic signals and drainage improvements in that area.”
The project is expected to cost $42.1 million.
The second widening project, which Satter said should begin early next year, will take place along a 4.1-mile stretch of highway between Airport Road in Destin and the Walton County line.
Satter said that FDOT would consider widening other parts of U.S. 98 one stretch at a time.
“We’ve been looking at these areas for years. When we break these projects down into smaller segments, it’s easier to manage and it actually reduces costs,” he said. “For the general public, obviously you’ll have 3.3 miles and another 4.1, so a little under 8 miles will be under construction starting next year.”
He added that the projects are an attempt to help the overall flow of traffic in a heavily congested area.
“U.S. 98 is one of the most heavily traveled corridors,” Satter said. “It’s a main artery east to west, so it’s important that we have the ability to let traffic move freely through that area. It’s important for the immediate future and for the long-term that we allow traffic to move through that area.”
Destin Chamber of Commerce CEO Shane Moody said that the chamber supports the widening project because it believes that, once it’s finished, it will be beneficial to local businesses. But Moody cautioned that the next three years drivers will need to remain patient during construction.
“We’ve been concerned about what the construction impacts, especially during construction, were going to have on some of our members and the ability of automobiles to get in and out on those businesses,” Moody said. “FDOT has said that they’ll make sure that there’s access to the businesses, but drivers are just going to have to be patient and take their time and be sure that they find the places that they’re looking for, because they’ll still be open.”