CRESTVIEW — It will come as little surprise to motorists slogging through northbound State Road 85 rush hour traffic to learn the city’s traffic consultant said that the major north-south artery is a major impediment to the community’s growth. During a Nov. 26 presentation to the Crestview City Council, the consultant reported a key is not expanding the state highway, but removing more local traffic from it.
Whit Blanton, vice president and principal of the Renaissance Planning Group, told council members that with the city’s projected growth — the population is expected to double to more than 40,000 residents within 25 years — but little federal or state highway funding, it’s up to the city to find creative ways to alleviate traffic on S.R. 85’s problem stretch between P.J. Adams Parkway and downtown.
“The wait won’t be growing shorter, it will be growing longer,” Blanton said.
“The big issue in looking at how to evaluate the different transportation connections is how to alleviate the traffic on 85,” Blanton said. “There’s not much you can do about 85 but there is something you can do about trips beginning or ending in Crestview. About 60 percent of the traffic that is on 85 has a beginning or end in the city of Crestview.”
A partial solution to alleviating some of that traffic is to make it easier to access destinations in town with a network of east-west and north-south connections that make it easier for local traffic to access businesses and residential areas without having to travel on S.R. 85, the Renaissance study stated. The group’s study showed local traffic on S.R. 85 could be reduced by as much as 35 percent using a local road network.
“Economic development is not going to happen if you don’t have good connectivity,” Blanton said.
Using roads such as the Brookmeade Drive extension has already alleviated some of the S.R. 85 congestion by routing local traffic north from Wal-Mart behind the North Okaloosa Medical Center, Blanton observed. Motorists taking “the back way,” using Brookmeade to Redstone Avenue and Okaloosa Lane to U.S. Highway 90, bypass S.R. 85 entirely.
“The plan recommends developing a city network to make those connections,” Blanton said. “You can do a lot on your own to make traffic better in the city and then work over time to develop that bypass.”
While an optimum solution is the long-discussed P.J. Adams Parkway/Antioch Road bypass around the southwest part of the city, Renaissance’s report faces the economic reality that there is no funding for the project. Some of the study’s recommendations include:
• A bike and pedestrian network that mirrors recommendations for local street networks.
• Improve bus service, increasing it from the current one bus every 70 minutes, “which is pretty lousy,” to 20 or 30 minutes. Also revisit plans for a commuter bus service to Eglin Air Force Base from park-and-ride lots in Crestview.
• Revisiting the S.R. access management plan “that didn’t go over so well” a few years ago, but this time, work with business and property owners to lay a foundation for them to “buy in with an access management strategy.”
• Incorporate the Renaissance study into the city’s comprehensive plan. “Once you codify this in your comp plan it gives you more leverage when you work with developers,” Blanton said.
• Prioritize local network projects and incorporate them into the city’s capital improvement plan as funds allow.
• Work in coordination with private development to realize some of the plan’s components.
“(S.R.) 85 is still going to be congested unless you choose to widen it, which is not economically feasible or desirable,” Blanton said.