By ELIZABETH SINCLAIR
PAXTON, FLA. – In its public announcement of a public meeting on Sept. 22 with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) regarding plans to either widen U.S. 331 through Paxton or create a bypass around the city the last paragraph made the following request: “Mayor Hayward Thomas and council members stress the importance of city residents’ participation and input regarding the project.”
More than three dozen citizens showed up at the meeting, filling the Paxton Agricultural Building, offering plenty of input and questions.
FDOT has plans for widening and realigning U.S. 331 from Coy Burgess Road, south of DeFuniak Springs to the Alabama state line. Project Manager Peggy Kelley explained the segment of the plan affecting Paxton and reasons for the changes. The northern part of the plan she addressed would double-lane U.S. 331 from Walton Road, north of DeFuniak Springs, to Wain Huckabee Road, about two miles south of Paxton. There are two options.
Option Number One would keep U.S. 331 running through Paxton as a four- lane with 11-foot traffic lanes, a raised median, a seven-foot bike lane and five feet for sidewalks. There would be yet-to-be determined cuts across the median to allow traffic to cut across. How this would impact commercial egress is not clear. This route could create issues with the city’s water and sewer lines, some of which would need to be replaced.The widening could affect 55 residence properties, 15 agricultural properties and eight commercial businesses.
An alternative option/route would bypass Paxton altogether, leaving U.S. 331 from Wain Huckabee Road into agricultural area, leaving Paxton for local traffic, similar to what has been has been done at Freeport. The bulk of traffic would go through what is now agricultural land to the east from Wain Huckabee Road to Alabama, returning to the current point at Florala, Ala. This route affects 12 residential, 21 agricultural and two commercial properties within Florida.
Alabama, according to Kelley, “has no interest in either route or continuing either project into that state. They packed up their marbles and went home.”
Bill McRae said, “If you bypass Paxton, it’s gone.” This echoed many of the responses from residents. Kelley suggested commercial entities such as the gas station/convenience store could move out to the bypass, if that was the determined route. Two property owners on that route said that that would be their decision and not likely. This would also be a rezoning county determination.
A woman in the audience asked “Could we just say no to either of these [routes]?” Kelley’s answer was “No.”
Kelley pointed out that public responses should be made within the next week to keep within the FDOT timeline.
The entire U.S. 331 widening process is currently a study that is likely to continue until 2018. Design would occur from 2018 through 2019. Alternative refinements will continue through the summer of 2017 followed by a public hearing. Any final decisions require the approval of the Federal Highway Administration. This process could take several years. Peggy Kelley and FDOT Public Information Director Ian Satter, in the District Three (local) office located in Chipley. Phone for Kelley, (850) 638-0250 ext. 1517, email: PeggyKelley@fdot myflorida.com.