'Help is on the way:' Largest phase of SW Crestview bypass project has begun

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — With wasps and dragonflies sailing around them, 16 officials who had or have a hand in the ongoing southwest Crestview bypass project used gold-painted shovels Monday to break ground on the largest phase of the overall $200 million effort.

The work ahead could be completed in two or three years and is expected to help relieve traffic on often heavily-congested State Road 85 and other roads.

The project includes construction of 6.5 miles of new roads, Okaloosa County Public Works Director Jason Autrey said at the groundbreaking ceremony. The event took place off Arena Road on a part of the Crestview sewage plant spray fields where the bypass’s north-south segment will meet the bypass’s main “east west connector” road.

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Autrey, who serves as a college football referee for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, told the more than 70 people at the ceremony that he had the privilege of refereeing the George Bulldogs-Clemson Tigers game on Sept. 4.

“That meant a lot to a lot of people,” Autrey said of the game, which Georgia won. “But it’s nothing compared to what we’re getting ready to start here today.”

Okaloosa County residents are the real winners of the bypass project, he told the crowd, which included various government officials.

Area residents are “going to hate us for a couple of years as we go through this construction process,” Autrey said. “I understand what growing pains are, but very clearly the citizens have the vision of where we’re going to end up.”

Officials and dignitaries throw the first shovels of dirt Monday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the southwest Crestview bypass. It is the largest phase of a $200 million effort to ease traffic congestion in and around Crestview.

He then highlighted the voter-approved local option half-cent sales tax that took effect in January 2019 and made the bypass project a reality. Officials are using about $34 million in county and city of Crestview half-cent sales tax revenue for the project.

Those monies served as “skin in the game” and led to the Triumph Gulf Coast Board awarding $64.1 million in BP oil spill settlement funds to the project. In addition, $100 million in state funding will pay for a new Interstate 10 interchange that will be built by the Florida Department of Transportation and tie in to the bypass.

The widening of PJ Adams Parkway on the south end of Crestview to four lanes, which represents a major part of the overall bypass, began in late 2019 and could be completed by April 2023.

The work ahead includes construction of the bypass’ four-lane north-south segment between the future I-10 interchange and U.S. Highway 90 at its connection with Enzor Road, and construction of the two-lane east-west road between Arena Road and Physicians Drive.

Physicians Drive connects to SR 85 via West Redstone Avenue, just north of the future Crestview Commons shopping center.

The bypass also will include a direct connection to Antioch Road via Arena Road. This connection is part of the east-west connector

Okaloosa County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the southwest Crestview bypass.

The new I-10 interchange, which is anticipated to be completed after the bypass’s north-south and east-west roads are built, will stand just east of the existing Antioch Road overpass at I-10.

Besides comments from Autrey, Monday’s ceremony featured remarks from County Commission Chairman Carolyn Ketchel, County Commissioner Nathan Boyles, Crestview Mayor JB Whitten, Triumph Gulf Coast Board Chairman Don Gaetz and his son, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“To all the families who sacrifice their time to traffic on Highway 85, to all the businesses who rely on workers to traverse our roads, the message today is clear: Help is on the way,” Matt Gaetz said. “We are going to have the most significant infrastructure and economic development project here in all of Northwest Florida, and it is a testament to the strong cooperation and the strong local leadership.”

Among other benefits, the bypass will help local military service members move more easily between bases, he said.

The $64.1 million in Triumph money for the bypass represents the largest of the more than 60 grants that have been awarded by Triumph Gulf Coast, Don Gaetz said. He commended Northwest Florida Sen. Doug Broxson for his work to obtain funding for the new I-10 interchange.

Okaloosa County Public Works Director Jason Autrey on Monday praised the hard of work of many people to make the southwest Crestview bypass a reality.

Monday’s ceremony took place near the middle of an estimated 7,000 acres of undeveloped land between I-10 and U.S. 90. About 5,000 of the acres are in unincorporated Okaloosa County and the remainder is within Crestview’s city limits, Crestview City Manager Tim Bolduc said after the ceremony.

Once it’s completed, the bypass will lead to much of the land being developed with commercial and residential projects. Properties in the larger, unincorporated section will receive city water and sewer service, and many of them could be annexed into Crestview, Bolduc said.

The bypass project “was a key component to closing the deal on Crestview Commons on 85,” he said.

Marianna-based Anderson Columbia Co. is the contractor for the bypass work that kicked off Monday.