HOLT, Fla., Feb. 21, 2019—Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles held a town hall meeting in Baker Wednesday ostensibly to talk about roads in the north part of the county.
The county has 700 miles of paved road and 200 miles of unpaved roads to maintain.
However, after a brief update on the maintenance, priority and methods of improving unpaved roads, the program quickly turned into a question-and-answer session covering topics ranging from roads, a lack of sewer systems outside of the Crestview city limits, increased traffic on State Road 189 through Baker, the bypass around Crestview, widening P.J. Adams, taxes and more.
North county roads
A major point of paving dirt roads is obtaining right of way access to the roadways.
That means land owners must give up a small portion of their property to allow the county to maintain roads according to safety, environmental and other specifications.
“One of the things we struggle with is trying to get right of way. It is our biggest limiting factor in being able to pave roads,” Boyles said. “If your roadway is one where we do not have adequate right of way, your road effectively falls down the list and it’s not going to be paved in the next 10 years or so.”
Audience members primarily were interested in the specifics of their own dirt roads, when they were going to be paved, how often they were graded and how they were maintained, as well as elevating road safety concerns to the members of Okaloosa County’s administrator, engineer and roads division.
Several people complained about the recent resurfacing of Galiver Cutoff and how it posed a safety hazard because of the drop-off between the new surface and shoulder.
Bryan Moore, Okaloosa County Roads Division manager, took that as an action item to review in the next two weeks along with other specific road issues.
An increase in traffic along State Roads 4 and 189 through Baker generated heated discussion.
One attendee summed up Baker’s traffic increase: “It’s crazy.”
“I’m sure most of you [around Baker] have noticed traffic has gotten a lot busier on that roadway, say in the last five-to-10 years—a LOT busier,” said Boyles.
According to the commissioner, it likely started when Google changed its mapping, rerouting beach traffic coming from the north, primarily down Interstate 65 in Alabama and along Alabama Highway 55’s four-lane roadway connecting Georgiana and Andalusia.
Because the 4/189 corridor falls outside of the Okaloosa Walton Transportation Planning Organization’s area of authority, the Florida Department of Transportation is responsible for studying the increase in traffic on these state roads.
“We’re working to find ways to get DOT to pay attention,” said Boyles. “They have verbally committed to me that next year they will fund some study dollars to look at that roadway…for widening all or a portion of that roadway in the future.”
Another attendee pointed out traffic through Baker is not a seasonal, March-to-September issue anymore.
Boyles attributed that to an increase in home building, the area being a good place to live as a bedroom community and that tourism is becoming a year-round market.
Traffic relief on highways 4/189 won’t come over night, however.
“This is kind of a five-to-10 year process to work through with DOT,” Boyles said.
PJ Adams widening
Traffic congestion along State Road 85 into Crestview has been a hot topic for the past few years as more people move into the north part of the county.
Creating a bypass around Crestview has been proposed to help ease the backup generated by evening rush hour traffic.
It starts with widening P.J. Adams to four lanes, a project already approved by the county, and developing an I-10 interchange to be funded by FDOT.
“The initial phase on that project is going to commence sometime this summer,” Boyles said. “That’s a county road, but DOT is pitching in 50 percent of that right now.”
The bottom line on outlying areas such as Holt and Baker getting a sewer system—whether by the county or a private utility— is no for now for a number of reasons.
Primarily, sewer systems cost twice as much to build as roadways and the population density of the areas will not generate the revenue to sustain a system, according to John Hofstad, county administrator.
“The complicating factor is you don’t have the revenue from the water side to support a sewer system,” he said.
“Sewer is better than septic. It’s better for the environment any day of the week,” said Boyles. “But the reality is you have got to have high density to make it work. Roads are cheap compared to sewer systems.”
Originally scheduled for two hours, the meeting continued until 7:30 p.m. to allow for all questions to be asked and answered.