INLET BEACH — The Florida Department of Transportation was at Inlet Beach on Tuesday evening to showcase its plans for what will be this region's first pedestrian underpass.
With design planning about 90 percent complete, the FDOT invited the public to Camp Helen State Park just over the Bay County line to get a first glimpse of the plans and talk to agency officials.
Plans call for the underpass to take foot and bike traffic under U.S. Highway 98 just east of the intersection with County Road 30A at Inlet Beach.
The lighted tunnel under the road will be 8 feet high and 12 feet wide and run about 8 feet beneath the highway, FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said.
"To me, it's great. I applaud FDOT," said Alys Beach resident Gary Young. "Having people cross 98 in a way that takes away any kind of danger is the way to go."
The underpass project "bubbled up" as a legislative allocation secured by state Rep. Brad Drake, who represents Walton County, according to Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles. Boyles attended Tuesday's meeting as an Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization official.
Although Satter said no construction funding has been approved yet, Shawn Justice with Volkert Inc. engineering firm said a tentative budget of $4.5 million has been established.
The Walton County Tourist Development Council voted Tuesday afternoon to ask county commissioners to commit $500,000 in TDC money for the project.
Plans at this point call for the FDOT to remove the existing road to build the underpass beneath the roadbed, Satter said. Some traffic pattern changes will be needed during that phase of the work.
The tunnel will be designed to fit a six lane highway in anticipation of future road expansion.
The FDOT has authorized spending for right of way acquisition this year, Satter said. Those costs are expected to be minimal because Walton County owns the land the underpass will occupy on the south side of U.S. 98 and the Donut Hole restaurant is said to be willing to donate land on the north side.
Boyles said the underpass hasn't been considered a TPO priority because there are so many traffic projects in the organization's pipeline. But he added that Okaloosa County will back Walton officials in supporting the underpass, which he sees as a "pilot project" that could increase safety in other places along U.S. 98.
"Ninety Eight is a long corridor. There are a lot of locations, a lot of choke points, that could lend themselves to this type of concept," Boyles said. "If we can find ways to get people to the beach without taking their cars, that's a benefit."