Bypass could help revive west Crestview area
CRESTVIEW — Local businesswoman Ann Hakenson remembers when the commercial area of U.S. Highway 90, aka James Lee Boulevard, west of downtown was the happening place to be.
In the 1970s and '80s, the building that now houses Hakenson’s Sleep Tight furniture store was the site of a popular nightclub that for the latter part of its prime was known as Kee’s.
“It was pretty wild,” she said with a chuckle. “It was the only big nightclub in town.”
Before its life as a club, Hakenson’s store at 699 W. James Lee Blvd. in unincorporated Okaloosa County had for decades served as a popular restaurant with a hotel above it. Hakenson opened her store at the site about eight years ago.
While the types of businesses there have changed hands several times and nearby parcels have had establishments open and close over the years, a much bigger change for the main road just west of downtown Crestview is in the works.
It’s a change that Hakenson, other business operators and many people are looking forward to.
By 2024 or 2025, travelers in the area might see the completion of the roughly $200 million southwest Crestview bypass. Construction began late last year.
Paid for with federal, state and local funds, the four-lane bypass will extend west from State Road 85 across PJ Adams Parkway and then north to a new Interstate 10 interchange before connecting to U.S. 90 at its intersection with Enzor Road south of Old Bethel Road.
Project officials eventually plan for the southwest bypass to connect to northwest, northeast and southeast segments for an overall beltway that would encircle the Crestview area, reduce traffic congestion on SR 85 and provide more travel options.
The exact starting point of the northwest segment, the next part of the overall bypass that will be built, might not be known for quite some time, however.
The County Commission plans to consider, possibly in October, whether to approve hiring HDR Engineering Inc. of Pensacola to provide a feasibility study for that segment.
With the board’s approval and as part of a three-year contract, the firm would analyze various engineering, environmental and other factors to help determine which of three corridors would be the most suitable for the northwest bypass.
A Florida Department of Transportation grant of more than $750,000 will cover the bulk of the study’s $1.1 million cost. County funds will pay the rest.
Only on paper for now, each of the three corridors starts north of U.S. 90 and leads to the intersection of SR 85 and Airport Road. One of the corridors begins north of the highway’s intersection with Antioch Road, one starts at the highway’s intersection with Old Bethel Road and one is at U.S. 90 and Cayson Avenue.
But the corridors currently just represent “lines on a map in a very generic fashion” that could very well change in the end, said District 3 County Commissioner Nathan Boyles, whose district includes the area containing the southwest bypass.
While a cost-benefit analysis must be performed, the corridor that would run north along Old Bethel Road might be the best route from an environmental impact and direct alignment perspective, Boyles said.
He added, though, that the county does not have platted right of way along that route. That means a number of residential properties could be impacted by the eminent domain process to acquire needed right of way.
Before I-10 was built through Crestview in the 1960s, U.S. 90 served as the main route between Jacksonville and Texas, Boyles said.
“In 1955, there was no better place to be” for local businesses, he said.
Boyles said the completion of the southwest bypass will bring more travelers to U.S. 90 west of downtown, meaning more customers for existing stores and other businesses.
“It will mean substantial re-invigoration of that entire area,” he said. “It will be much easier to get to the interstate. Drive times will drop and that area will be much more accessible, and there will be a lot more redevelopment.”
Currently, that stretch of U.S. 90 “still has a lot to offer, but by the time people reach this part of town, they’re not really paying attention to what’s on the side of the street,” said Hakenson, who has sold mattresses and other furniture in the Crestview area for a total of about 18 years. “I would hope (the southwest and northwest bypass segments) would help my business. Maybe more people will see it and stop. There used to be no other mattress stores around here except for us.”
Blake Kunkle, a Crestview native and a salesman at Hall’s Motorsports Emerald Coast at 655 W. James Lee Blvd., also supports a resurrection of the western part of the old highway.
Like the Sleep Tight Furniture store next door, Hall’s Motorsports is just outside Crestview’s city limits. Kunkle said Hall’s has been in business for several years and plans to expand on an adjacent parcel that once contained a steakhouse and later a Mexican restaurant.
“It would be nice if more traffic could come through here,” he said.
More vehicles passing by might encourage new businesses to open and provide more jobs, Kunkle added.
“We’re always for improving the town. That’s what the people deserve.”