Officials approve improvements to Chat Holley Road/U.S. 331 intersection

CONCEPTUAL PLAN for short-term improvements to the Chat Holley Road/U.S. 331 intersection.

By DOTTY NIST

Following up on a traffic and safety study of the Chat Holley Road/U.S. 331 intersection, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) recently approved improvements recommended in the study.

The decision took place at the Aug. 22 BCC meeting at the South Walton Annex.

The BCC had called for the study due to safety concerns at the intersection stemming from increased traffic and pedestrian use. DRMP, Inc., one of the engineering firms under contract with the BCC for professional services, had provided the study. 

The intersection is signalized with pedestrian crossing features.

Walton County Staff Engineer Chance Powell presented information on the study and the recommendations.

Powell indicated that DRMP had separated the recommendations into short-term and long-term improvements, with the former able to be accomplished “fairly quickly” using in-house crews and the county’s signal maintenance contractor.

Powell explained that, approaching the inter section from the east, the sidewalk immediately adjacent to the curb and gutter on the south side of the road is where many people exit from the parking area on the south side of Chat Holley to move to the restaurants on the north side. “What they noticed,” he told the commissioners, speaking of DRMP, “was when people get to that sidewalk, they refuse to walk down to the dedicated crosswalk. They’re standing right on the edge of the curb and they cross over.”

The recommendation to address this issue was to remove that sidewalk and reconstruct it approximately 15 feet from the back of the curb, along with installation of an aluminum hand rail on the back side of the sidewalk and also with the addition of some shrubbery to direct people exiting the parking lot to the crosswalk at the signalized intersection.

To address other issues identified with the intersection, another short-term measure recommended was increasing the pavement markings at the intersection to high-visibility markings. Also recommended in keeping with the changes was relocation of the push-button function to activate the Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) feature for the pedestrian walk signal.

“And then,” Powell continued,” there’ll be some signage on the [traffic signal] mast arms that will limit a right turn for southbound moving traffic while the PID features are active.”

He estimated the cost for the short-term intersection improvements at approximately $70,000. Powell said Melissa Thomason, Walton County chief financial officer, had determined that there were sufficient proportionate fair share funds available to cover this amount.

Turning to the long-term plan portion of the recommendations, Powell said this would involve additional vehicular improvement optimization to the intersection by adding an additional eastbound left turn lane and providing a dedicated southbound right turn lane, together with modifications to the intersection crosswalk in order to make it more direct—plus eliminating the concrete island.

He noted that the latter would require substantial design work and coordination and permitting with the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

Powell spoke, as well, about an opportunity for a mid-block crosswalk at the intersection from north to south. The crosswalk, he said, would be required to be 300 feet from the signalized intersection per federal regulation.

Powell said the county has additional right-of-way at the location where some parking is taking place. However, he said this crosswalk would be located farther west than the county’s expanded right-of-way extends—and it would be necessary to work with the property owner to the west of that right-of-way in order to obtain an easement to extend the sidewalk so that the mid-block crosswalk is at least 300 feet from the signalized intersection.

Powell said the property owner on the north side (Lloyd Blue) had indicated he was in favor of the mid-block crosswalk and had stated that, should the crosswalk go in, he would be willing to pay for a rectangular rapid flashing beacon (RRFB) at the crosswalk, an expense of approximately $14,000, in order to make the crosswalk more conspicuous.

District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick moved for acceptance of the report, approval of the short-term improvement project, and authorization to have staff work to move the long-term phase forward. His motion was seconded.

District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns commented, “I’m glad to see that this is going to be done, because this is an extremely critical area…”

She spoke of driving down U.S. 331 going south and turning onto Chat Holley Road and not expecting people to be walking across the street at that location, “but they do, and between cars that are coming out trying to get onto 331.”

“So this is definitely necessary,” she said of the project, “and I do want to say that I appreciate the fact that Mr. Blue is…willing to pay a portion—for the blinking light.”

Johns asked about the possibility of an overpass for pedestrians at the intersection. Powell responded that, while an overpass may be safer, it would also be “extremely costly.” He said the crosswalk proposal would also be safe as long as everyone obeys the rules, also noting that the plan meets all requirements and that it is standard procedure to get pedestrians across the road in this manner.

District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson spoke in favor of the project. He noted that Chat Holley has become a cut-through road and that the road gets backed up all the way to J.D. Miller Road in the afternoon. “So having two left turn lanes will be critical,” he added.

On the topic of Chat Holley Road having become a cut-through road. Powell noted that the county currently has improvements to Old Blue Mountain under design. “It is anticipated that with that construction of Old Blue Mountain Road from 98, up to Chat Holley, the intersection at Chat Holley would be an all-way-stop condition. That will be approximately 1.2 miles from the intersection of 331,” he continued.

“Also,” Powell told the officials, “we have in design right now Nellie Drive extension, which will go from Publix back to Chat Holley.” He explained that there would likely be an all-way stop on Nellie Drive in the short term and then a signalized intersection once the new school planned in that vicinity is in place.

He thought it likely that the latter projects would have the effect of discouraging some of the cut-through traffic on Chat Holley Road since it would then be a longer route than using U.S. 98.

Speaking as a citizen, Megan Harrison commended the commissioners for considering the improvements to pedestrian access for the Chat Holley Road/U.S. 331 intersection, sharing that a truck had hit her son when he was crossing Chat Holley Road on foot. He said that fortunately his injuries were not as bad as they could have been and he was doing well.

A month after that accident, Harrison said, there had been another pedestrian accident at the intersection resulting in a fatality.

“And so, I just think that as we see the growth in our area and the growth in that Chat Holley area, we’re going to see more and more traffic, both foot and vehicular,” Harrison anticipated.

“I highly encourage you, whenever the funding request comes up for the next phase of this, that it is a no-brainer to approve this,” she concluded.

With public comment concluded, a vote on McCormick’s motion for approval carried in a unanimous vote.