By DOTTY NIST
Discussion on a new road planned to connect Walton Way with U.S. 98 in Miramar Beach, and associated community concern, carried over from the May 14 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting to the May 28 BCC meeting at the Walton County Courthouse—and led to discussion of sidewalk and stormwater improvements in the Forest Shore Drive/Walton Way area.
The new road was brought up on May 14 in connection with a large-scale amendment approved by the BCC for transmission for state review. This was the Golf Garden Large Scale Amendment applying to a 35 1/2 acre property on the north side of U.S. 98 in Miramar Beach, across the highway from Driftwood Road. The property is envisioned for development with townhomes, apartments, and commercial.
The staff report for the amendment referenced the proposed new road, stating, “A new Walton County right-of-way and road, totaling approximately 2.75 acres, is planned for the East side of the proposed development. This road provides improved emergency vehicle access, redundant power supply to the residential communities north of the subject property, redundant potable water and fire connections for the residential north of the subject property and improved access and traffic circulation in the vicinity.”
At both meetings, Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way residents were present to voice concern that the new road would exacerbate traffic conditions in their neighborhoods.
At the May 28 meeting, District 4 Commissioner Trey Nick brought up the new road and Golf Garden property. Nick said he had visited the area and had seen the traffic coming through Forest Shore Drive off U.S. 98. “It looks like turn two on Talladega when you come through there,” he said.
Located in the Holiday Shores Subdivision (Miramar Beach community), Forest Shore Drive intersects with U.S. 98 on its east end and runs east near the Choctawhatchee Bay north of U.S. 98. Forest Shore Drive links on it west end with Walton Way, another east-west road running near the bay toward the Walton-Okaloosa County line. BCC and public discussion has indicated that there has been more traffic on Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way during the ongoing project to six-lane U.S. 98 in the area, as vehicles are using the neighborhood roads as an alternate route to escape the construction area.
Nick asked Chance Powell, county traffic engineer, to provide an update on the matter.
Powell went into some history, explaining that several years ago the county had started some engineering efforts to address stormwater, pedestrian access and traffic problems on Driftwood Road and Ellis Road, two Miramar Beach roads located south of U.S. 98. After a number of workshops were held, Powell continued, it was recognized that a signalized intersection at Driftwood Road and U.S. 98 would be important in connection with these efforts.
However, he explained, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would not support this signalized intersection without a roadway connection at the intersection between Walton Way and U.S. 98, across the Golf Garden property.
While parties previously interested in developing the Golf Garden property had opposed the Walton Way connection with U.S. 98, the existing developers and also the Golf Garden property owners have indicated that they would entertain the connection, Powell reported.
Powell said that he did understand concern from the community that connecting Walton Way with U.S. 98 would result in more traffic on Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way, but he said he was not convinced that the connection would increase traffic overall on these roads. Powell did acknowledge that there could be more traffic at times depending on conditions at intersections in that vicinity.
He said he viewed “any connection” that could be made in the roadway system as a benefit and helpful in instances of closures as in the case of accidents.
Powell said he expected a reduction in the number of vehicles using Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way as an alternate route once the construction on U.S. 98 of the two additional lanes is finished, although there could still be an increase of traffic on these alternate roads as a result of an accident and related closure of U.S. 98.
District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell asked if any plans were in place or any engineering was being done in connection with sidewalks or stormwater drainage in the Holiday Shores area.
Powell responded that there had been some requests from the public for improvements of this nature. Some major drainage improvements had been done in the area several years ago that had the potential to restrict opportunities for sidewalks, he reported. Powell commented that a redo of some of these drainage systems would be possible accompanied by sidewalk improvements, similar to what the county is doing in other areas, as a capital improvement project. The first step, he said, would be to analyze what costs would be and bring that information back to the BCC. Funding would be the only “hurdle” he indicated.
In response to a question, Powell said that sufficient right-of-way is available for the stormwater drainage redo and sidewalk improvements. He estimated the cost at approximately $200 per foot.
Glidewell asked if it would be possible to extend such a project all along Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way to the county line. Powell responded that this would be possible, since the right-of-way is similar for that whole distance.
Nick pointed out the benefit of such a project in getting pedestrians off the road.
Powell told the commissioners that new pedestrian facilities now under construction in the Holiday Road area would be completed very soon. He said he could see starting work north of U.S. 98 along Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way on a similar project upon completion of the Holiday Road project.
A number of Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way residents addressed the commissioners at the May 28 meeting. The first of those, Donna Johns, an area resident for 18 years, thanked the officials for their interest in a sidewalk project in the neighborhood and in fixing drainage, saying that this is needed.
She voiced concern about increased traffic with the U. S. 98 intersection with Driftwood Road/Walton Way being “opened up.” Johns said conditions are bad now in the neighborhood with people cutting through Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way and speeding through. She suggested a look at speed bumps or any other measures to prevent the neighborhood roads from being used “as a raceway.”
New Walton Way resident Joseph Bowers, who said he uses Forest Shore Drive every day, also expressed appreciation for the commissioners’ consideration of improvements in the neighborhood. He urged for improvements to Forest Shore Drive in advance of extending Walton Way in order to prepare for an increase in traffic on Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way.
Walton Way resident James Thurman was in agreement, saying that children walk on the road in the neighborhood and that people often walk their dogs on the road. Without putting safety measures in place before extending Walton Way, he told the commissioners, the area would be “a death trap.”
Jim Bagby was also appreciative of attention to addressing drainage and sidewalks in the neighborhood but asked what problem the county was trying to solve by connecting Walton Way with U.S. 98. He stated that no one was asking for the road extension and added that there was “no need for a light down there.”
Powell responded that the plans for the signalized intersection at Driftwood Road were based on an engineering study done for the county by Atkins and on work planned for U.S. 98 by DOT. He said that in the opinion of staff a signalized intersection would be safer.
Six-year Forest Shore Drive resident Alex Gracia provided the BCC with pictures of people jogging and walking to the park on his street. He said he had seen many vehicles speeding through the neighborhood, including a school bus. Gracia said his neighbor’s dog had been killed by being hit by a “speeder.”
Gracia spoke in support of the sidewalk project but was not in favor of conventional speed bumps due to potential damage to vehicles. His suggestions were rubber “speed cushions,” radar signs showing drivers their speed, and other traffic calming measures.
There was no action pending information to be brought back by Powell on the potential sidewalk and drainage improvements on Forest Shore Drive and Walton Way.