MILTON — For more than 30 years, the widening of Highway 90 has been a heavily discussed issue. A long-awaited Florida Department of Transportation study is nearly done, and the results are set to be revealed in April.
FDOT conducted a Project Development and Environment study on two sections of Highway 90: from Scenic Highway to Santa Rosa County, and from Glover Lane to State Road 87 South. The two-year study cost approximately $1.5 million.
But what does it all mean, and what do residents think? The Press Gazette explored the issue further.
SCENIC TO SANTA ROSA
The purpose of the Scenic Highway to Santa Rosa County project, a .813-mile endeavor, is to study the widening from four lanes to six lanes of U.S. Highway 90 through Escambia and Santa Rosa counties to provide additional east-west capacity alternatives to Interstate 10.
Highway 90 serves as a link between the city of Pensacola, the community of Pace and the city of Milton. The western segment directly connects with Interstate 10 and is in close proximity to the main University of West Florida campus entrance at Campus Drive.
The eastern segment connects with Avalon Boulevard, which connects to Interstate 10, and connects with State Road 87 and State Road 89, both of which extend north into Alabama.
Additional roadway capacity is needed to strengthen Highway 90 as an east-west corridor alternative to Interstate 10 that will accommodate the projected future roadway volumes for motorists traveling between Escambia and Santa Rosa counties and for emergency evacuation purposes.
A public hearing will be held Feb. 22 on this issue, and specific meeting information is not yet available.
GLOVER LANE TO 87
The purpose of the Glover Lane to State Road 87 South study is to develop a proposed improvement strategy that is technically sound, environmentally sensitive and publicly acceptable.
This 5.9-mile project aims to primarily evaluate the potential for increasing the capacity for the east-west travel demands on U.S. Highway 90 in Milton.
A public hearing will be held April 17 on the issue, and meeting information is not yet available.
"The city has had various perspectives over time," Milton Planning Director Randy Jorgenson said. "The position that has been exposed traditionally has been that the city looks forward to the release of the information from FDOT."
Jorgenson said the study will analyze every aspect of the project development, from the impact on the historic district to the area’s environmental sensitivity.
"When the results are released, the council will determine their position in regard to the information provided," Jorgenson said.
Although city officials have been pressured in the past over this issue, the roadway belongs to the federal government; if FDOT decides widening Highway 90 is the best option, while they take the city’s and county’s perspectives into consideration, it is ultimately their decision.
According to Jorgenson, if the decision is to widen the road, the city will ensure the final project is the best it can be. The city will seek the narrowing of lane width, lowering of speed limits, separate bicycle and pedestrian walkways, period lighting through downtown, public gathering places and a setting characteristic of the community’s history.
FISHER HAMILTON BUILDING
The Fisher Hamilton building on the south side of Highway 90 at Willing Street will be the only building moved if FDOT decides to widen the roadway, and they agreed to move it brick by brick to a location yet to be determined, according to Jorgenson.
The currently unoccupied building was purchased by the county in 1989 and renovated.
With population on the rise in East Milton, the problem is only going to get worse, long-time East Milton resident and area advocate Kyle Holley says.
"From what I understand, 2,000 plots are platted for new residences," he said. "We have to have a solution. We have a responsibility to build tomorrow’s history, not yesterday’s."
Holley respects history, he said, but is more concerned with solving the traffic issue and building business.
"I want the DOT to buy the Fisher Hamilton building," Holley said. "and the county and city should partner, using all of that money to incentivize new business in downtown Milton."
Impact of traffic on Highway 90 to business considering moving into the I-10 Industrial Park is minimal, according to Economic Development Director Shannon Ogletree.
"With the Industrial Park a mile from the interstate, you can jump on the interstate and get off at Bagdad (or) Pace," Ogletree said. "If you left the Industrial Park trying to come to Milton, traffic is backed up to the Tom Thumb. That causes some issues.
"We’re experiencing a population growth and new industries coming in, but I don’t think it would hinder or stop a company from coming in."
"It's 20 years past due," Chris Phillips said. "Six lanes from Escambia to Stewart Street will provide sidewalks and improve drainage along the corridor."
"Please just go ahead and widen it," Mary Kennell West said. "It's the lowest-cost option and the most practical. The Fisher Hamilton building will be moved and not destroyed."
"Widening the highway is more than a convenience issue, it's a safety issue," Amber Van Why said. "Highway 90 is the only evacuation route in this area, and we've developed so much more traffic congestion over the years.
"I can't imagine what it would be like during the next hurricane … I adore historic Milton, but safety first."