Work begins on improvements to busy south Walton County intersection

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Work has finally begun on improvements at the intersection of County Highway 30A and County Road 395.

However, the work has already caused concern among some locals.

"Today the bike path was blocked off on both sides of the intersection and pedestrians/cyclists where forced to cross unmarked/unspecified spots on 30A and travel on the south side shoulder on either side and through the intersection," wrote resident Dana Harman in an email describing the disruption on Wednesday. "People are crossing wherever they decide is appropriate and then walk or ride along a 2-foot wide or less sized shoulder on the south side of 30A."

Harman said she has spoken to District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper, who told her she would take a look at it.

"It's extremely dangerous," said Harman. "I can't believe they started working with no plan. That's a blatant disregard for human safety."

Harman went to the site and spoke to the Public Works crew. She was told they were not directed as to how to create a safe alternative route for pedestrians.

"Our commissioners have heard time and again how unsafe this intersection was. Now it is extremely and irresponsibly hazardous. The current intersection design was approved Feb. 19, 2016," she said. "There is no excuse to put the public at risk for fatal injury because given a year and a half no one could decide on how to detour the pedestrians. This is outrageous and all work needs to stop at the intersection until a pedestrian path is determined and secured."

County Engineer Chance Powell, however, said there is a plan to manage pedestrian traffic. He said the 395 bike path will be closed to pedestrians in November, but the 30A path will remain open although it might have to be shifted during some of the work.

"There were only two days last week when the work took place and there was inconvenience," he said. "We had to clear the property on the northeast corner two feet because the trees were hanging onto it. The bike path shifted to the north at that time. We plan to use a new path to shift people to the existing path, but there will be a time when the utilities are working that I won't have complete control."

The work being done is Phase 1 of the intersection improvements.

No additional land is being taken for the project.

Among the improvements will be a traffic signal on 30A with a westbound right-turn lane onto 395 north.

Left turn lanes are also planned, but Powell said he is not sure it will happen at this phase. If it does, it will be southbound on 395 only.

As for the bike path, it will be shifted to the extreme north limits of the right of way in the northeast quadrant of the intersection. The bike path on 395 will be closed during November and December for utility relocation.

Okaloosa Gas and Regional Utilities will put in a sewer line under the bike path. For this phase, the bike path will be closed from Canal Street to 30A.

All parking on 395 is also being taken out.

The multi-use path on Canal will be taken out during construction, but will be replaced.

Two lanes of traffic will be maintained during construction.

District 4 County Commissioner Sara Comander has stated that during the construction the county would work on bundling and putting in fiber optics on the far east side.

The improvements will involve major utilities being relocated, with most of those being on 395.

"Regional Utilities has significant changes to be made there, and a little on 30A," said Powell.

The project is anticipated to take three years to complete.