As the spring tourist season goes into full swing, I realize that summer is just around the corner. That means that, on any given day, we’ll have an additional 60,000 people-plus in town with us. That means more money flowing through the economy, more diners, shoppers, golfers, swimmers. But it also means more people on the road.
I spend a lot of time in my car going from Fort Walton Beach to 30 A for meetings or visits with members, not to mention following my kids along the span of Highway 98 east and west getting them where they need to go. The construction going on is progressing, but it also creates hazards. I encourage you to slow down, use extra caution, and do not become complacent because you’re familiar with driving through the construction zones.
With visitors in town, many of them here for the first time, they will become confused or lost and not know exactly where they are headed. We need to be aware of that. We have two more years of the construction, so patience needs to win out here.
Also keep in mind that 65% or more of the traffic in Destin comes from locals who are passing through, i.e. going from east of us to west of us and vice versa. Will the completion of the construction help with traffic flow? Maybe, and probably will to a certain extent. But the widening will not be from “end to end” and the third lane will end at Airport Road and just east of Sacred Heart Hospital. There will still be bottlenecks.
It’s not that we aren’t grateful for the improvements. But the solutions to Highway 98 traffic are not on Highway 98. There needs to be a regional transportation plan, a plan that takes drivers and cars and spreads them out. It takes a plan that encourages crossing the bay and going east-west on the north side of the bay. It takes some parallel roads to Highway 98 to ease traffic between neighborhoods. It takes alternatives. But most importantly, it takes vision and cooperation.
That’s why the Destin Chamber supports the Crosstown Connector. It’s a parallel road that will provide an alternative to Highway 98. This road is being put in place not to take traffic off of 98, but to keep locals from having to use 98 for their east-west travels. It’s for local traffic, not pass-through traffic. And it’s cost the city more than $20 million and 30 years of planning. It needs to be done!
Again, thanks to Destin City Council for continuing to support this alternative transportation corridor. While it’s not a total solution, it’s the first of many options and opportunities. Let’s hope we can have the vision and the fortitude to seriously look at answers to our traffic issues in the coming years. That’s what it will take to continue building this world-class community.
With wishes for continued success,
Shane A. Moody, CCE, FCCP
President & CEO