THE ISSUE: State Road 85 is the only main road for Okaloosa County's largest city. Any traffic accident on S.R. 85 can virtually halt all activity in the city, causing notorious delays.
LOCAL IMPACT: A state senator is exploring options that could improve the situation. Among them is public transit, which could not only reduce traffic on the overburdened roadway, but also encourage lifestyle changes for some residents.
CRESTVIEW — North Okaloosa County traffic is a well-known concern for anyone who travels the area, particularly through Crestview.
State Sen. George Gainer (R) says he wants to do something about it.
"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.”
Some residents have questioned whether a western bypass would help, but that would involve nearby Eglin Air Force base.
“The most important issue with Eglin is the encroachment issue; we have talked about a western bypass for a long time,” Okaloosa Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel 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 said, whatever the solution may be, time is of the essence.
"I want to see something develop here like yesterday to get 100 thousand-million cars off of 85," he said. Can you get an Amtrak to get people off of 85.”
Public transit via train is one option if passenger rail service is revived.Can you get an Amtrak to get people off of 85.”
"Can you get an Amtrak to get people off of 85?" Blocker said.
Gainer said he wouldn't vote against the measure, but residents should consider the need for 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.
An overturned tanker on State Road 85, the only main road through Okaloosa County's largest city, in 2013 notoriously halted traffic for several hours.
Another factor is the heavy tourist and commuter traffic that fills the main road and even its side streets.
On June 24, a Honda van with an out-of-state license plate crashed into two vehicles while making an illegal U-turn at the intersection where PJ Adams Parkway meets Tom Thumb, slowing traffic in the area for hours while the police conducted an investigation.
Sgt. Josh Grace of the Crestview police department said that out-of-state drivers often ignore traffic signs, such as U-turn notices, in Crestview because it’s not their final destination.
“Crestview is a travel area. People have tunnel vision and they don’t pay attention to the signage because they are using it as a travel way,” he said.
Another notably dangerous intersection, he said, is where Walmart Road intersects with 85.
“Walmart Road and 85 is more of a problem,” he said. “It’s more dangerous there because of the width of the road, there isn’t enough room to make a U-turn.”
It all boils down to 85's limitations.
“So there has to be ... more than one roadway — and [Gainer] 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…" Cadle said.
“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.”