Bike path gets attention at Sept. 27 county commission meeting [PREMIUM]

PLANS ARE in place to address flooding on the CR-30A bicycle pedestrian path with recent approval of a project aimed at doing so. A pilot project has also been approved for lighting along a segment of the path. (Photo credit: Walton County Public Works)

By DOTTY NIST

The popular CR-30A bicycle and pedestrian path got lots of attention at the Sept. 27 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Annex, with two agenda items related to the multi-use path.

Bike path improvements

First, Doug Pritchard of Walton County Public Works introduced a proposed project to address deficiencies with the path between Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and Inlet Beach, including flooding on the path.

Pritchard told the commissioners that staff had been tracking all the maintenance problems being experienced on the path, had developed a spread sheet ranking maintenance items to be undertaken, and were underway with preparing plans to remedy the issues, which were present at 48 sites along the path. He detailed that only half a ton of asphalt would be needed for repairs in some sections and as much as 30 tons of asphalt in others.

He was confident that public works staff would be able to complete the plan drawings within two months and get the project bid out by January or February 2023. Pritchard noted that funding was available through the Walton County Tourism Department budget.

The cost estimate for the repair work at the 48 sites was estimated at $927,000.

Pritchard also said public works staff had been looking at the option of overlay work on the path with a half inch of asphalt, which could provide “a brand new” path at an estimated cost of $373,000.

He noted that it would not be necessary to overlay the whole 18 miles of the CR-30A multi-use path since several private developments provide maintenance of sections bordering their property and not all sections would necessarily be in need of the paving.

Pritchard said public works staff was in the process of developing a pavement management system for the path. He brought up other options for such a system, including a more cost effective “fog type seal” that would renovate asphalt on the path and extend the life of the material.

“Overall,” Pritchard said, “we’re asking authorization to go forward as I said, with the design in house at a cost of about $927,000 to bid the whole project to private industry,” he said of the project to address flooding.

“Once the flooding issues are addressed, we’ll come back with evaluations on what work maybe public works can do in house and what future repairs we can make to basically give a brand new path for that full section,” Pritchard concluded.

District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell was eager for the work to get started. “This needs to be done yesterday,” he said. He spoke to the need for this path, “right in the middle of our largest tourist area,” to look good and function correctly.

Pritchard anticipated a 250-day time frame for the project to address flooding, partly due to the need to ensure maintenance of traffic and provide channelizing/diversions to get bicycles and pedestrians safely around the work zone. “So all of that will be fully vetted when we issue the…working drawings,” he explained.

Pritchard agreed that the quicker the project could be completed, the better.

District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson moved to approve proceeding with the project to address flooding on the path per the request, and his motion was seconded.

South Walton County resident Barbara Morano voiced excitement about the project. She asked if any widening of the path was planned.

Pritchard responded that the project would not include widening, although there would be realignment in some areas.

Per discussion, the path is eight feet in width with some 10-foot-wide sections.

Anderson advised that possible future widening of the path would be a question for the Walton County Tourist Development Council, since the tourism department would be funding the bike path improvements.

His previous motion for approval carried unanimously.

Bike path lighting pilot project

Brian Kellenberger, Walton County beach operations director, provided an update and request for direction on a pilot program for bike path lighting with which the BCC had previously tasked the tourism department with developing.

He explained that staff had developed plans to place two different types of lights on the path section along CR-30A between CR-83 and CR-283 (2.1 miles) for the pilot program. The cost would be about $200,000 for the proposed fixtures and arrangement, Kellenberger told the commissioners.

A total of 68 light fixtures are planned along the section, according to material provided on the project.

Anderson moved to approve proceeding with the pilot program, and his motion was seconded.

There was public comment from Leigh Moore, executive director for the Scenic Walton nonprofit organization and chair for the Walton County Tourist Development Council Destination Improvement Committee and also from Barbara Morano. Both urged for more public input being sought before proceeding with the pilot project and more dialog with local organizations and neighboring residents, and also to include review by the Destination Improvement Committee.

Morano suggested that other options be considered such as mandating headlights on bicycles.

“These lights, in my opinion, are going to look like an airport runway,” Morano said of the pilot program lighting.

County Commission Chairman Mike Barker, who had spearheaded the effort, responded, “The thought process behind this was strictly for safety, not to light the sky, not to light the…sand dunes or the sea turtles or anything else but to light that pathway…by some method, so children riding bicycles, adults riding bicycles, people walking up and down that path, that they do year ‘round, have some element of safety without it being dark.”

Glidewell said it was his understanding that the intent of the pilot lighting program was to put up several different kinds of lighting in the “pilot stretch” of the bike path and allow the public to observe them.

“And then at the end of the pilot program, we would evaluate and have public comment, public meetings…,” he said, “we would take that public comment and determine the proper lighting system and then we would go the entire stretch,” Glidewell explained.

Kellenberger agreed that this was the idea for the pilot program and confirmed that the lighting would be set up to comply with the county’s Wildlife Lighting Ordinance, which is aimed at preventing negative lighting impacts on beach wildlife, including sea turtles.

After some additional BCC and staff discussion, Anderson’s motion for approval carried unanimously, setting the stage for the pilot project to get underway.