MILTON — The Milton City Council's April 11 meeting was packed with local business owners and concerned residents.
Last week, flyers were delivered to businesses throughout Milton inviting them to attend the meeting to discuss “the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment that would result in the city supporting a southern route as the only present solution to challenges facing the community for traffic on Highway 90.”
‘WE ARE SURVIVORS’
Residents expressed their concerns about the impact of a southern alternate route. Many were in favor of the route, while others would rather make Highway 90 four lanes. The discussion went on for approximately two hours.
“Think mainly where this [four-lane] road would be and where the impact would be,” businessman Vernon Compton said. “The largest impact would be through the downtown, where people have invested themselves.”
Compton is known to have a strong opinion on this matter. In 2015, he was cited in an ethics complaint for using his seat on the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization to advocate the southern route while having control of property near where the route would run, according to the report.
“I don’t think in our lifetime we will ever see a southern bypass,” Councilwoman Sharon Holley said. “If one was to ever go in, we wouldn’t have a downtown, we would have a ghost town.
“We have a southern route and it’s called I-10, and it has four exits to Milton.”
The only way the Florida Department of Transportation will study a southern alternate route is if TPO will approve it, and three years ago it was denied, according to Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson, who urged the council to decide on the issue and move forward.
“Even if in some other towns it caused problems, I don’t believe that will happen to Milton,” she said. “We need to move on and move more traffic to downtown Milton. I love historic Milton, but sometimes you’ve got to make a decision for progress.
“We are survivors. We will make it. We will be okay.”
Many concerned residents were under the impression that the council already had a plan of where the route would be; however, the plan will not be made until FDOT studies the area and decides what would be best.
“The question is to ask the DOT to study it,” Councilwoman Sharon Holley said. “If they study it and it fails, then it fails. I doubt I'll be alive when the road goes through.”
Many formerly studied possibilities for the route had issues with impeding on wetlands.
“They’ve studied some southern routes and they took them off the table, but you can’t accept the word no,” businesswoman Cindy Booth said. “They’ve studied it twice and told you no, but you all still want to table it for some reason; for some unknown reason we get shoved into a backward motion.”
According to Councilman Alan Lowery, the city was surveyed and 3,000 people said they wanted a southern route.
Mayor Wesley Meiss spoke about the origin and development of Milton and Highway 90.
“Not to speak for the council, but I think they would probably agree,” Meiss said. “The last thing that any of us would ever want to do is harm our businesses in any way, shape or form. The reason you’re here is because your life-blood, your jobs, your money is on the line.
Meiss said he liked the idea of the southern alternate route because it saves the city’s cultural resource by not attempting to move historic buildings in downtown Milton to make room for a four-lane expansion.
“If we allow them to study it, in the end, if the four-lane of downtown Milton is what is recommended … then let’s put it to bed and let’s do the work,” Meiss said.
THE FINAL VOTE
Councilwoman Ashley Lay motioned to amend a motion to revise the Comprehensive Plan; this motion would leave the Comprehensive plan as is, not requesting the study of the southern bypass. Holley seconded the motion. The motion failed.
Lowery’s motion to table the Comprehensive Plan Amendment until the next Committee of the Whole meeting was seconded by Councilwoman Peggi Smith. This motion also failed.
Lay’s motion to remove the request for the southern route to be studied and not put it into the Comprehensive Plan passed, with Holley, Pat Lunsford, Lay and Johnson in favor.