DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — A group of concerned residents traveled to the Walton County Courthouse on Tuesday to protest plans to connect Walton Way to U.S. Highway 98 and ultimately install a traffic light at intersection of U.S. 98 and Driftwood Road.
People are worried the extension will drastically increase traffic and endanger those who live nearby.
"It's not a forgone conclusion on the light, by the way, because you have to buy the right of way, (and) somebody's got to put the road in," Jim Bagby told commissioners. "That's a lot of county tax dollars for something that nobody's asking for except maybe some developers.
"If you'd held this meeting in the south end and addressed this problem, like you normally do, I guarantee you the (Walton County Courthouse Annex) would be packed," Bagby added.
Chance Powell, the county's traffic engineer, said it's always good to interconnect roads.
He added that the Florida Department of Transportation won't allow a traffic light at the intersection of Driftwood Road and U.S. 98 unless the highway is connected to Walton Way to form a four-way intersection.
"Understanding the improvements that FDOT is going to make to 98, we felt that it was a safer intersection (at Driftwood and 98) for it to be a signalized intersection," said Powell, who added the county still needs an easement for the pathway through The Golf Garden of Destin before the Walton Way extension can be built.
Alex Gracia gave commissioners photos taken the previous morning showing residents walking their dogs, jogging and riding bikes along Forest Shore Drive — a street that runs perpendicular to Walton Way.
Garcia, who lives on Forest Shore Drive, said drivers often speed through the residential area. He worried that more traffic will add to the problem.
"There are at least eight children ages 14 and under that live within four houses of where I live," he said.
James Thurman, who lives on Walton Way, urged commissioners that if the extension is a done deal, sidewalks should be installed first.
He said many people already use Forest Shore as a detour to avoid traffic on U.S. 98, and their plan for Walton Way might expand "a really dangerous area."
"If you pass extending that roadway before you put the safety issues in, it's a death trap for our children," Thurman said.