POTENTIAL NEW “Alternative 4” corridors analyzed by Atkins for congestion relief on CR-30A.
By DOTTY NIST
While nothing was decided, there was plenty of talk on July 31 about potential new CR-30A connector roads.
This was at a well-attended Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) special meeting on that date at the South Walton Annex.
The Atkins engineering company had been tasked with updating Walton County’s County Road 30A Traffic Study. A presentation provided at the meeting was from the second phase of that study, dealing with impacts and constraints associated with recommendations previously provided by Atkins and approved by the BCC in February.
At that time, the BCC had voted to have Atkins proceed with evaluation of two corridor alternatives presented as options in the study. These included: Alternative 4, a new east-west route connecting CR-395 with CR-30A between the CR-30A bridge crossing of Eastern Lake and Eastern Lake Road; and a variation of Alternative 1, a new north-south route located east of CR-395, connecting U.S. 98 with CR-30A, located along/outside the Eastern boundary of Deer Lake State Park. It had been directed that evaluation of the corridor alternatives would factor in impacts of the routes and needs in connection with congestion relief.
Speaking to the commissioners at the July 31 meeting, engineer John Fielding of Atkins reported that the potential road running along the eastern boundary of Deer Lake State Park, which he referred to as the Seacrest Drive Extension, would have the advantage of having the least impact on natural lands and wildlife and would provide an additional connection between CR-30A and U.S. 98. However, he also commented that this route would put traffic through a local residential street, that it would not provide congestion relief to the most problematic areas of CR-30A (Seagrove and Seaside) and that it would duplicate nearby WaterSound Parkway.
Fielding indicated that Alternative 4, on the other hand, would provide relief to congestion at the CR-395/CR-30A intersection and would improve emergency services access.
However, both Alternative 4 and potential alignments discussed for a new road connecting CR-30A directly with U.S. 98 would present impacts to state lands and wetlands. Fielding told the commissioners that environmental impact assessments that would come next in the standardized approach to the project(s) would include these impacts as alternatives are vetted. Both social and environmental impacts would be part of the investigations, he noted.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman asked Fielding what the Florida Forest Service’s perception had been about a road project that would cross forestry lands. He responded that forestry officials had indicated that they would not comment prior to an environmental impact review on the potential project being furnished to them. Fielding reported they had said they would want to see good support from the county and early coordination on such a project.
Chapman asked what ratio of mitigation would be required. Fielding estimated 1 1/2 to one to two to one.
In February, one of the Atkins recommendations had been for an Alternate 1 that would go from CR-30A along the power easement in Point Washington State Forest, on the east side of Seagrove to U.S. Highway 98. At that time, the BCC had voted not to have Atkins pursue that alignment. However, it came up again in discussion again at the July 31 meeting.
Chapman said he had gotten emails in opposition to a road going through the forest and also in opposition to a road going through neighborhoods. “Our options are really limited,” he said.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander said that hopefully public works would have a traffic light in place at the CR-395/CR-30A intersection by fall or winter—but that turn lanes at the intersection would take longer. “We have to consider five and ten years from now,” she emphasized.
Comander discussed the possibility of “critter crossings,” similar to those done in connection with the U.S. 331 four-laning project, being provided in connection with a potential road through the forest. She noted that Alternative 1, the potential road near the power line easement, would allow for close access to the property where the new school and sports park were being constructed. It would also be possible to work on ensuring connectivity with a multi-use path along the new road, Comander commented.
Later in the discussion BCC Chair Cecilia Jones said in response to a question, “I think doing nothing would be a crime.”
With 15 residents in attendance coming forward to address the BCC on the potential new roads issue, comment was nearly evenly divided between those opposing fragmenting state lands with roads and those calling for some form of a new road east of CR-395 connecting CR-30A with U.S. 98.
“The places you are proposing to build roads are the places I walk and like to enjoy,” Santa Rosa Beach resident Caroling Geary told the commissioners, speaking of important headwaters and rare pitcher plants in the area of the power line easement. When asked what her solution to traffic congestion would be, Geary responded that she gets out before 8 a.m. to do her shopping in order to avoid the traffic.
“We should be celebrating it, not attempting to fragment it,” Santa Rosa Beach resident Celeste Cobena said of the state forest land. She emphasized that this land was acquired for preservation, not for road projects, urging the BCC to abandon pursuing roads through the forest. “It’s not going to happen,” she assured them.
Instead, Cobena urged for improving the CR-395/CR-30A intersection and looking to the eastern boundary of Deer Lake State Park for any new north-south road connecting CR-30A and U.S. 98.
Greg Parker, identifying himself as a retired Navy captain, physician, and disaster response expert, countered that the power line road would be “the best solution” to the traffic congestion problem. Calling the Alternative 4 proposal as “short-sighted,” he urged instead for the power line road in conjunction with improving the CR-395/CR-30A intersection.
South Walton County resident and businessman Dave Rauschkolb also addressed the commissioners in support of the power line road as the “common sense obvious solution,” while observing that the state lands have “helped define south Walton” and adding that he walks the trails and cares deeply about them. “We have to be proactive,” Rauschkolb urged.
Others suggested different solutions. Point Washington resident Frank Day called for removal of encroachments on CR-30A and four-laning the county road to relieve congestion, along with the use of a flyover to align the Seagrove area with the new school.
Resident Jared Schnader’s opinion was that the measures that had been discussed did not represent a long-term solution. New roads, he said, would only create more traffic going up and down CR-30A. One of the only options that would work, he told the commissioners, would be putting in place an effective transit system.
No action was taken at the meeting due to the fact that only three commissioners were in attendance.
Information presented at the special meeting may be viewed at the link: https://walton.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5327331&GUID=C7045F6F-6737-4C44-92A2-B651B9DB9D40