U.S. 98 getting major facelift

18. ledna 2013 v 4:20 |  street light
Highway 98 will be getting a makeover beginning this year, as an 18-month project is under way to resurface Highway 98, add a bike lane, and install lighting along the entire length of Highway 98 in Santa Rosa County.

The initiative to install lights along Highway 98 started last spring after a series of pedestrian fatalities on the highway.

District 5 County Commissioner Lane Lynchard said he asked the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to do a lighting study in the area between the Navarre Walmart and College Parkway.

FDOT did the study in conjunction with a review of all of Highway 98 in Santa Rosa County. The results of the study were that FDOT agreed to install street lights on the entire length of Highway 98 in Santa Rosa County.

"It's a huge project, and hopefully installation will proceed by the end of the first quarter of 2013," said Lynchard.

Lynchard added that last fall a study was performed by the Gulf Breeze Zoo in which they tested the installation of various lights. After evaluation, LED lights were chosen to light the highway.

The FDOT will be paying for the installation of the lights. Maintenance of the lights will be handled jointly between Santa Rosa County and the FDOT.

Lynchard said the county pays for the upkeep of the lights, and the FDOT reimburses the county for the "lion's share" of ongoing expenses. Highway 98 will be resurfaced from county line to county line.

United Peninsula Association president Don Richards said the first phase of resurfacing will begin at the Gulf Breeze Zoo and extend east of the county line. The second phase will begin at the Gulf Breeze Zoo and extend to the Pensacola Bay Bridge. While resurfacing, safer pedestrian and bike features will be put in place.

"When I took office, a little over four years ago, one of the things I kept hearing from residents is how they wanted sidewalks and bike paths along Highway 98," said Lynchard.

Lynchard said a separate path along Highway 98 from the National Seashore to Navarre Beach would cost upwards of $10 million, which Lynchard said was not an option. In 2010, Lynchard became aware of the resurfacing project that FDOT wanted to conduct on Highway 98.

Lynchard set up a meeting with FDOT's engineers to see if there was any way the county could incorporate pedestrian and bicycle safety features in the project.

In January 2011, Lynchard pitched the idea to install an eight-foot shoulder, instead of the regular three to four-foot shoulder, that would double the "margin for error." Lynchard also pitched the idea to install striped bike lanes and raised audible dividers between the drive lanes and the shoulder.

These "bike lanes" will be installed on both sides of the highway. FDOT agreed to the project if the county funded it. Since the county will be "piggy backing" on the FDOT, the cost will be incremental compared to carrying out the project by itself.

The IMPACT fees, which are being used to fund the $1.1 million project, had to be amended to be used for pedestrian features.

"I'm really excited about the project," said Lynchard. "I think that it's going to offer a a margin of safety that we haven't seen in the past.

"The combination of the two projects is really going to transform Highway 98 into a completely different corridor." Lynchard said he expects the project to be complete in about two years.

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