By DOTTY NIST
As the result of a recent decision, a traffic light and turn lanes are in the future for the Geronimo Street/U.S. 98 intersection in Miramar Beach.
The decision on the turn lanes took place at the Feb. 11 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Annex.
The improvements are aimed at enhancing safety at the busy intersection, which is reported to have been the location of at least 19 crashes and two fatalities over the past five years.
At the BCC meeting two weeks earlier, information was presented that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) had agreed to signalize the intersection and was requesting that Walton County install a northbound right-turn lane on Geronimo Street at U.S. 98 at a cost of $260,000. After some discussion at that meeting, county commissioners took no action but directed staff to provide more information at their next meeting.
On Feb. 11, Walton County Administrator Larry Jones explained that DOT was now indicating that the county providing the requested turn lane would be a condition for the state signalizing the intersection.
Additional information from DOT regarding the intersection was provided as well.
A DOT study reported on the crashes and fatalities previously mentioned and also indicated that the intersection experiences excessive delays “during multiple periods throughout the day.” It also found that side street traffic volumes had been approaching the threshold for the northbound right-turn lane on Geronimo Street to be considered. The study also added that traffic conditions justified a full-length right-turn lane for the eastbound approach of U.S. 98 at Geronimo Street. However, the latter lane was not recommended due to DOT’s plans to six-lane U.S. 98 in the near future.
One option facing the commissioners was to provide the northbound right-turn lane onto Geronimo Street per DOT’s request. Jones also presented them with the option to also construct a westbound right turn deceleration lane onto Geronimo and an eastbound right deceleration lane on U.S. 98. He estimated that the work could be accomplished for $400,000 with the three projects being undertaken at the same time.
Walton County District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld suggested bringing up improvement of the intersection with the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) to see if it could be advanced for funding, particularly in view of the six-laning of U.S. 98 that would be coming up. County Commission Chairman Bill Chapman also observed that the intersection would be a topic for the TPO at its meeting this month.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows encouraged the two commissioners to take up the matter with the TPO. However, in the meantime she was in favor of proceeding with the opportunity to improve the intersection in cooperation with DOT. She noted that the county is able to pay for its part of the improvements from proportionate fair share funds already in the bank. Meadows was concerned that the work could be delayed with the other counties and cities represented on the TPO “getting involved” with the project.
“We have the chance to put in the lanes that we think we need,” Meadows said.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander also said she favored moving ahead. She pointed out that Walton County is greatly outnumbered on the TPO and that, even if the TPO votes to move a project up on its priority list, the state may not agree.
“Our job is to make sure this intersection is safe,” agreed District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen.
Miramar Beach resident Charlotte Flynt attested to dangerous conditions at the intersection and was also critical of the current configuration, which has caused extreme difficulty for fire engines attempting to exit from South Walton Fire District’s station on Geronimo Street to respond to calls.
Meadows motioned to move forward with the option to add the three turn lanes at Geronimo Street and U.S. 98 as presented by Jones, with the understanding that DOT would signalize the intersection.
The motion was approved 4-1, with Imfeld voting no.
By DOTTY NIST