98 construction going according to plan

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri | skotzum@thedestinlog.com
The $33.5 million project will widen 4.1 miles of U.S. Hwy 98 between Airport Road and the Walton County line from four to six lanes. [SHERI KOTZUM/THE LOG]

Since the summer of 2017, the 4.1 mile stretch of U.S. Highway 98 between Airport Road in Destin and the Walton County line has been decorated with traffic cones and undergone lane changes as construction crews work to widen the highway from four to six lanes.

The $33.5 million project is expected to be finished in the spring of 2021. With 2019 marking a halfway point of sorts, Florida Department of Transportation officials have said you can expect to see a lot of progress happen this year.

According to Tanya Branton, a public information specialist at FDOT, motorists traveling eastbound between Airport Road and the west end of Henderson Beach State Park can expect to see traffic shifted to the center of the roadway as crews construct the new eastbound travel lanes this year. FDOT hopes the new eastbound lanes will be almost complete by the end of 2019.

From the west end of Henderson Beach State Park to Matthew Boulevard, the current traffic pattern is here to stay. Branton said they hope the eastbound lanes in that stretch will be completed sometime in 2019.

And soon, traffic traveling west from the Walton County line to Kel-Win Circle will be shifted to the south side of the road to allow crews to construct the new westbound lanes, which are also anticipated to be complete this year.

Branton said motorists should be mindful of the speed limit, which is 35 mph from Airport Road to the Walton County line, and to use caution in construction zones, especially at night.

One of the biggest concerns about the construction is in regards to the influx of traffic and visitors that Destin sees during spring break and the peak tourist season. To help keep local businesses informed, FDOT is sending out information about the progress of the project as well as upcoming traffic pattern changes.

As spring break approaches, Branton said FDOT is trying to keep traffic running as smoothly as possible.

“In preparation for the upcoming spring break season, a work suspension period including no lane closures is scheduled from March 8 through March 24,” Branton said in an email to The Log.

During the summer season, Branton said any work that will require lane restrictions will only take place between 8:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. and two lanes in each direction will constantly remain open.

Although the current construction might seem inconvenient and frustrating, FDOT Spokesperson Ian Satter said to keep the end goal in sight.

“(These) projects will deliver transportation and economic development benefits that include increased capacity, reduced congestion, improved safety and support for regional economic development initiatives,” Satter said in a previous interview with The Log.

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