A roughly three-mile bypass is being proposed for U.S. 98. The new roadway would create a parallel roadway north of U.S. 98, starting east of Solar Drive (near Arby’s) and ending at Green Drive (La Casa Blanca restaurant). Officials say it could be a game changing, long-term solution to help alleviate U.S. 98 congestion by allowing the Florosa Elementary school zone to be moved off the highway while also re-routing some westbound traffic from Hurlburt Field. Graphic by Romi White.
Santa Rosa County District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech, during last night’s Transportation Infrastructure Forum, presented information about the proposed Florosa Bypass, which would provide a U.S. 98 alternative route aimed to reduce congestion west of Hurlburt Field.
The public forum was hosted by the Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce at St. Sylvester Church and also included a presentation by Tiffany Bates, community liaison for Emerald Coast Regional Council, which coordinates intergovernmental solutions for growth-related problems in seven Florida Panhandle Counties, including Santa Rosa.
Piech said the Florosa Bypass project, which is being spearheaded by Okaloosa County, is not yet part of the Florida-Alabama Transportation Organization’s 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan and that ahead of its proposed inclusion he’s working to garner military and community support.
“I’m excited about the Florosa Bypass,” said Phil Babiak, a long-time proponent of a U.S. 98 alternative route who attended the session. Babiak said he would like to see the community take a “proactive” approach to supporting the project.
Piech pointed out that U.S. 98 is maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation, and he noted FDOT has already made some short-term solutions to improve traffic flow, including studies which enabled an increased in the speed limit for schools zones at Florosa Elementary, Holley-Navarre Primary and West Navarre Primary.
Other quick-fix solutions have included upgrading traffic signals with Miovision TrafficLink, which allows for real-time traffic management by FDOT staff who can monitor and make immediate adjustments to the timing of signals during periods of high-traffic congestion.
So far three traffic signals in Navarre have been upgraded to utilize TrafficLink: U.S. 98 at Hwy. 87 South and both signals on Navarre Beach Causeway. A fourth upgrade is planned for U.S. 98 at Sunrise Drive in Navarre, and Piech said a new traffic signal being funded by developers of the Publix-anchored development at Rosewood Drive in East Navarre will also utilize TrafficLink.
But the Florosa Bypass could be a potential long-term game changer, allowing a significant volume of U.S. 98 traffic traveling to and from Hurlburt Field to be re-routed north of 98. The bypass would also allow for the complete removal of the school zone at Florosa Elementary, which has persistently clogged afternoon traffic for years.
Other topics discussed during the forum included but were not limited to:
- the makeup of the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) and its role and the process of prioritizing regional transportation projects;
- impending construction of two new traffic signals on U.S. 98 at the Elevate development (between Hwy. 87 and Andorra Street) and Soundside Drive (at Community Life Church);
- an update on the widening of U.S. 98 to six lanes, which is planned for the entirety of Santa Rosa County, starting with the section from Bayshore Drive to Portside Drive between Tiger Point and Gulf Breeze, which is expected to be completed in 2025; currently a PD & E study is underway for another segment of the widening from Ortega Drive east to Rosewood Drive;
- news that, per FDOT, a traffic signal is not yet warranted for U.S. 98 at Ortega Drive;
- an update on the 87 Connector, which will create a hurricane evacuation route from Hwy. 87 S to Hwy. 87 N, bypassing the City of Milton.
Piech also announced that FDOT’s Navarre Beach Bridge feasibility study should be released within the next month, and he is pushing for the new future bridge site to be located at the intersection of U.S. 98 at Hwy. 87, although several options will be included for consideration, excluding the existing bridge, which no longer meets clearance requirements for height along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Mark Wright, who serves on the TPO’s Citizen Advisory Council, said the future new Navarre Beach Bridge can “flyover” U.S. 98 and would have entrance and exit ramps to help keep traffic flowing, eliminating the traffic signal at U.S. 98 and Hwy. 87 S. “That’s been a bottleneck forever,” Wright said.