Okaloosa makes progress on 'bridge-to-bridge' path for bikers, joggers. When will it be ready?

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

OKALOOSA ISLAND — Bicyclists, joggers and other people might be able to start using the long-planned “bridge-to-bridge” multi-use path on Santa Rosa Island as soon as late next year, according to Okaloosa County officials.

When fully completed, the 12-foot-wide paved path will stretch along the south side of U.S. Highway 98 and across 4.3 miles of Eglin Air Force Base-owned land between the county-owned Beasley Park and the Marler Bridge next to Destin. The new path will connect to the existing paved path that runs between the park and Brooks Bridge, providing full bridge-to-bridge connectivity.

A multi-use path is set to be built along the south side of U.S. Highway 98 on Santa Rosa Island from Beasley Park east to the Marler Bridge. The new path will connect to an existing path between the park and Brooks Bridge.

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The project location received a “Finding of No Significant Impact” from Eglin in April. The project’s design phase is nearing completion and will be followed by the permitting phase, which should be done by the end of this year, county spokeswoman April Sarver said.

A multi-use path planned for the south side of U.S. Highway 98 across Eglin Air Force Base land on Santa Rosa Island is expected to improve safety for bicyclists and joggers.

According to county Public Works Director Jason Autrey, the new path will be as far from U.S. 98 as possible. The exact distance has not been determined yet.

Sarver said the construction time frame for the multi-million-dollar project depends on many factors, such as the availability of labor and materials.

“The best-case scenario is a year, so it could take all of 2023 and could inch into 2024,” she said.

Bicyclists and joggers could begin using a paved path across Santa Rosa Island as soon as late next year.

Funding for the project:Road work: Okaloosa earmarks funds for Crestview bypass, other improvements in 2022 budget

Plans for the new path include three car-parking sites adjacent to it. They will consist of improved parking areas at three Eglin-designated beach access points, Sarver said.

Safety barriers will separate the path’s users from vehicles on the road. As many residents know, that stretch of U.S. 98 has long been one of the most dangerous in the area.

For example, from the start of 2015 to about mid-2016, seven bicyclists or pedestrians were either killed or injured along that section of highway.

Other parts of the multi-use path project will include signage as well as environmental fencing along Eglin’s protective buffer areas.

The county will be responsible for maintaining and repairing the new path and associated infrastructure. Such tasks could include sand removal and erosion control.

The total project cost — including environmental studies, design work and construction — is about $5 million. The county has $2 million in state funding and about $3 million in county bed tax money to pay for it.