CRESTVIEW — Infrastructure and transportation in north Okaloosa County was the focus of a town hall meeting Thursday.
County Commissioners Nathan Boyles and Graham Fountain, along with other county and city officials, hosted the informal discussion. No decisions were made.
Among officials in attendance were Wayne Steele, Crestview’s public services director; Jason Autrey, public works director for Okaloosa County; JB Whitten, president of the Crestview city council; Mayor David Cadle; Kay Godwin, deputy county administrator; and Scott Moneypenny, Laurel Hill city council member.
Boyles expressed the need for a solution to Crestview traffic, saying it no longer is just an inconvenience but also a public safety issue. According to Autrey, about 54,000 vehicles travel south on State Road 85 each morning.
“It’s no longer a one-direction issue,” Boyles said. “It’s no longer a one-time-a-day issue.”
About 10 years ago, a west bypass from Antioch at Arena Road to SR 85 at Raspberry Road was studied, Autrey said.
According to Autrey, the project is too large to do all at one time, so it needs to be done in parts. It's also expensive; the entire project will cost $100 million. The current rate for simply paving a two-lane road is $1 million, and the bypass will be four lanes, 13 miles long with bridges.
Officials have a plan, a design that is 90 percent complete, right of way from the county and some funding identified for three phases. The first phase is the widening of Antioch Road to four lanes.
“I think we will see progress in the next 12 months,” Autrey said. “Funding is the biggest roadblock right now.”
Fountain said more attention must go into moving traffic to boost the economy instead of worrying about sidewalks and roundabouts, although those improvements are also important.
“We don’t need any more palm trees,” Fountain said of the new trees along SR 85 near State Road 123. “That’s enough palm trees to pave several miles of road.”
Cadle suggested a small group ask Eglin Air Force Base for funding because many of its service members commute from Crestview. He said the problems should be laid out in front of a base commander, noting traffic accidents and congestion during hurricane evacuations.
Crestview resident David Schneidman suggested making SR 85 eight lanes with the outside two lanes on each side for people making stops within the city and the middle two lanes on each side for continued traffic north and south.
“The problem with that is the eminent domain,” Fountain said. “We don’t take property from people without at least paying market value. That’s not cost effective.”
Many other residents approached the podium and shared their ideas on reducing traffic congestion; right now, the city and county are working together to find funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, Eglin and Duke Field and the local option gas tax dollars to continue with the west bypass project.
“People are going to die here if we don’t do something,” Fountain said.