CRESTVIEW — Motorists driving around "road closed" barricades face traffic violation fines and could cause further collapses of storm-weakened infrastructure, north county officials say.
Drivers are bypassing city and county Public Works barricades that proliferated in the wake of the April 29-30 storm; Crestview Police spokesman Lt. Andrew Schneider said his department has received multiple complaints of barricade-runners.
"It is a violation of statute," he said. "We are ticketing drivers for that."
Schneider said because so many roads were damaged by the storm, "it is impossible to have an officer at every one of them."
Roads closed 'for a reason'
"We close roads for a reason," Okaloosa County engineer Jason Autrey said. "It is exceptionally foolish to do two things: drive through standing water and go across a barricaded road."
In the Grandview Heights subdivision, the Grandview Drive causeway appears passable despite a washout that collapsed a third of the roadbed. But out of drivers' sight, its base is eroded from flood waters that roared down the usually placid creek beneath the causeway.
"That road is in very poor shape," Autrey said. "It's very unstable right now."
But that doesn't stop residents from driving over it, including parents taking children to and from area schools. Illegal traffic has extended a crack across the remaining pavement.
"There's a lot of cars driving over it," resident Suann December observed during a Tuesday morning walk.
Another resident, who did not give his name, thinks the county overreacted by closing the road.
"There have been a number of cars and trucks going through there," he said. "The county goes a little to extremes. I won't hesitate to take my car through here."
'A hazard for other folks'
That attitude doesn't sit well with Capt. Larry Ward at the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Crestview station. Driving through a closed road segment "causes a hazard for other folks," he said.
Drivers and passengers could be injured or killed if a weakened, closed road collapsed beneath their vehicle, Ward said. Violating the signs also could endanger public safety workers who have to rescue such motorists.
Culprits would be responsible for paying for the further damage they caused, Schneider said.
Because so many county roads were damaged in the storm, there are not enough barricades to completely blockade some streets, Autrey said.
"They're there for a reason," Autrey said. "It's to protect people as much as the infrastructure. But I can't design away stupid."
The Grandview Drive closure has an unintended benefit for December, who frequently visits her sister who lives on the other side of the closed portion, normally a quick drive by car.
"It used to be zip, zip; we'd be at each other's house for morning coffee," December said, walking briskly across the causeway. "But I can use this exercise."