Tuesday night, the Florida Department of Transportation hosted a meeting on the U.S. 90 Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study regarding corridor alternatives to a packed house of 235 people in the Santa Rosa County Auditorium. While FDOT asked for written comments, they did not give time for spoken questions or comments after a video presentation other than face-to-face discussions with representatives. Written comments must be received by September 15 to be considered part of the official record. According to FDOT representatives, county residents will not see another public meeting until 2017, and even after the study concludes in 2018 the design and right-of-way acquisition periods have yet to be funded.
As stated in the handout material from FDOT during the meeting, the purpose of the PD&E study is to “evaluate the need for increasing the capacity for the east-west travel demands on State Road 10 (U.S. 90) in Milton.” According to Ian Satter, FDOT public information director, the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to review for the public the four possible corridors in consideration to solve the current and future traffic problems of Highway 90. Three of the four corridors in consideration circumvent downtown Milton.
The first alternative goes through downtown widening Highway 90. The second option defines a new alignment serving as a bypass located south of 90 along the City of Milton’s southern boundaries. It begins at Glover Lane and follows the old 90 Highway until Baldwin Street and runs adjacent to the railroad crossing at BlackwaterRiver with a new bridge before returning to the current corridor. The third concept is similar to the second option but begins at 90 and 89 intersection. Corridor 4 option takes a northern route widens 90 to three lanes through downtown with a new bridge for westbound traffic north of Monroe Street. A no-build decision means taking no action. Satter said FDOT does not have a preferred route yet, but the FDOT PD&E Study Corridor Evaluation Matrix does score the alternatives based on engineering, environmental, socioeconomic and cost factors.
Alternative one scored the highest at 58.4 with corridor four behind by two points. Satter said “The no-build is always considered an alternative, but traffic modules show a dramatic increase and Highway 90 would not be able to accommodate 20 to 30 years down the road.” Highway 90 failing, he said, would mean exponential backups, significant wear and tear, more repair, more cars for potential wrecks, and longer time for emergency vehicle response.
In the crowded hall, several officials from the City of Milton and Santa RosaCounty attended. Milton Councilwoman Ashley Lay said she was happy to see such a diverse group of people attend the meeting and wanted to see a presentation of what the “proposals truly are” for the project.
A county resident who attended the meeting, Kirk Kennedy, said “It’s a lot to think about. The different alternatives affects everybody.” Kennedy said he doesn’t have a preferred alternative right now while he’s weighing the options.
Mickey Rij, owner of Santa Rosa Jewelers, staunchly supported alternative one saying it’s best for the community. He said he’s been in business 35 years while his building has been there 70 years. The construction phase, he said, “could ruin my business, but if we hold out then (the new road) would help my business.”
Mayor Wes Meiss said it was a good meeting and a healthy crowd.
“The people I talked to want to preserve the historic district. Milton’s greatest asset is the historic district.” He said letters have gone to FDOT in support of preserving the historic district and advocating the no-build option. “It’s a clear message they don’t want to see the historic district compromised. I’m also hearing calls for a true southern alternate.”