CRESTVIEW — North Okaloosa County traffic is a well-known concern for anyone who travels the area, particularly through Crestview.
State Sen. George Gainer (R) addressed the matter during a Monday afternoon town hall meeting at Warriors Hall.
Gainer, who chairs the state’s committee on transportation, fielded questions from the public and local elected officials about traffic and other concerns.
“It started out being a meeting where everybody could just tell me their concerns and what they would like to see me address and it turned into a traffic thing because everyone here is so focused on the traffic situation,” Gainer said.
His thoughts on the issue?
“We have got to tell the [Florida Department of Transportation] in Tallahassee what they need to hear," he said. "First of all, I don’t think they understand the gravity of the situation and I hope that I can express that.
“As far as the funding, some of it can come from there, some from the federal government and some can come from the counties who all got $15 million [in oil spill money]. I just think that the opportunity is now that we can make this thing happen, and it is going to take a lot of money, but we got the opportunity to come up with a lot of money now and that will be our number one priority.”
Okaloosa Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel told Gainer her concerns regarding Eglin Air Force Base's impact on local traffic.
“The most important issue with Eglin is the encroachment issue; we have talked about a western bypass for a long time,” she said.
“The main thing with Eglin is the mission at the core,” Crestview Mayor David Cadle said. “They don’t want to be a part of anything that would deemphasize why they are here and we understand that. That’s why we try to work with them.
“I think things have changed enough that they see how difficult it is to evacuate their own personnel in time of a hurricane who live up this way. In fact, they have to evacuate days early because of the problems that we have. The last evacuation we had was a complete disaster and we are aware of the problem.”
Crestview City Councilman Joe Blocker asked Gainer, “If we don’t have a transportation problem, then what problem do we have? I want to see something develop here like yesterday to get 100 thousand-million cars off of 85. Can you get an Amtrak to get people off of 85.”
Gainer responded, “If a bill comes up and we need to accommodate Amtrak then there is no reason for me to vote against it. The only thing we’d need help on are the safety crossings to get across the tracks.”
As for State Road 85, Cadle said, “The major problem with traffic in Crestview is the limited roadway that we have. We want to have one north-south roadway and it is just overtaxed; it is overburdened with people going back to-and-fro from work.
“So there has to be like what Senator Gainer said — more than one roadway — and he has some ideas that will help expand what we have never been able to do before, and he thinks there are things that can happen…
“He is chairman of the powerful transportation committee, he is from Northwest Florida, and he understands the problem, so hopefully we will see some progress in the coming days.”