98 construction progressing on schedule

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com
This is what the finished expansion will look like, which FDOT expects to be completed by the summer of 2020. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

The massive $75 million expansion of U.S. Highway 98 remains on schedule, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

How much all that funding will improve traffic flow — particularly during the summer months — remains to be seen.

Currently, two different sections are being widened, with the project beginning in Walton County in 2016.

Louis Svehla, the public information manager for Walton County, said county officials are glad to see FDOT is working on an expansion project to accommodate the steady increase in traffic over the years.

"Anything (FDOT) is able to do to help traffic flow will be beneficial to anyone that works here, lives here or plays here," he said.

The Walton County expansion, from Emerald Bay Drive in Destin east to Tang-O-Mar Drive in Miramar Beach, costs $42 million is scheduled to be finished by mid-2020.

The second improvement extends from Airport Road in Destin east to the Okaloosa-Walton County line and costs $33.5 million. That part of the project is expected to be finished by early 2021.

FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said that for the most part, construction is going smoothly.

"Minor weather issues have been the only minor concern, but the project is continuing to move along quite well," Satter said.

Within Walton County, crews are working to construct a new drainage system and complete the infrastructure work for the soon-to-be constructed roadways, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, curbs and gutters.

Four new retention ponds are also being installed, according to Chance Powell, a Walton County traffic engineer, in addition to upgraded traffic-signal software — contributions that he said will be key in cutting down travel time for the 46,000 drivers or so that navigate the highway every day.

During much of the project, both eastbound and westbound lanes have either been shifted or rerouted to make way for construction.

Construction along the north side of the highway between Airport Road and Matthew Boulevard in Destin has been completed and includes new sidewalks, curbs and gutters.

"(On) Nov. 5, crews shifted the eastbound travel lanes to the north, between (the) western boundary of Henderson Beach State Park and Matthew Boulevard," Satter said. "This traffic shift provides a work zone on the county side of the roadway to construct the new eastbound travel lanes, bicycle paths and sidewalks."

From Ken Way Circle east to the county line, crews are working to build a new drainage system and a temporary lane through the median. Eastbound and westbound lanes have been moved to the outside of the original highway during the drainage construction.

All temporary routes are expected to continue into 2019.

"(These) projects will deliver transportation and economic development benefits that include increased capacity, reduced congestion, improved safety and support for regional economic development initiatives," Satter said.

For more information on U.S. 98 improvements, visit nwflroads.com/currentprojects.