Walton County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday evening to move forward with a project development and environmental study for traffic relief on County Highway 30A.
"In general, they want to look at any and all options that would be the least impactful to the environment," said Public Information Manager Louis Svehla.
A project development and environment study is an environmental and engineering process developed by the Florida Department of Transportation to determine social, economic, natural and physical environmental impacts associated with a proposed transportation improvement project.
The vote came as a result of an update given by Chance Powell of the 30A traffic study that was initiated to look at traffic concerns on 30A, most recently at the intersection of County Road 395/30A.
Several alternate north/south routes and an east/west route were explored that would help get drivers off 30A and back out to U.S. Highway 98.
A study by Atkins Engineering identified two routes that would provide maximum benefit.
Alternative 4 is one of those that would be a new east-west roadway connecting CR 395 to 30A east of Eastern Lake Road. The benefits of this route would be improved access to 395, improved emergency services response times, and has the least amount of environmental impacts.
Alternative 1 would be a new north-south road east of Seagrove connecting 30A and U.S. 98. Its benefits would be improved access to 98 and points of interest such as the Walton County Sports Complex, improved emergency services response times, and improved access for hurricane evacuation.
Atkins recommended further evaluation of Alternatives 1 and 4 with short term preference given to Alternative 4.
The reasons given were for the Alt. 4 preference were the relief given to the CR395 intersection, improved emergency services access, it would have the smallest impact to state forest lands, and allow interconnection to existing street network. The cons were less benefit to hurricane evacuation, and wetland and flood plain crossings.
As for Alt 1, the pros were the relief to the Seaside-Seagrove area, improved hurricane evacuation, and it would improve emergency services access. The con was the significant crossing into Point Washington State Forest lands.
The impact on state forest lands was a major point in leading Atkins to recommend Alternative 4.
"State forests are a natural resource that DEP protects," said John Fielding of Atkins. "The state demands that you analyze alternative lands. Alternate 4 fits within the guidelines, although Alternate 1 follows power lines as much as possible. The next step is an environmental study."
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander noted that commissioners have been working on the problem since before she was elected to the board in 2006, chewing on it since 2003.
"It's not getting any better. We don't have roads for all the people who move down here. We are not going to make everybody happy," Comander said. "The road next to the power lines is the only plausible solution. It is a direct route. It is the obvious. I studied this for a very long time. The power lines are already there. It can be made a road that no one can veer off into state lands."
Fielding said his goal was to look at the least impactful solution, admitting that Atkins focused on Alternate 4 and did not look at Alternate 1 that much for that reason.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson and District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones stated they want to consider more options.