MILTON — After years of highly debated discussions and costly research, the Transportation Planning Organization unanimously voted to bump up the widening of U.S. 90 through Downtown Milton on its priority list.

In April, the Milton City Council passed a resolution, in a majority vote, formally opposing the four-laning project. In their resolution, they said they said the widening of U.S. 90 would cause harm to businesses and residents and would negatively impact the city's comprehensive plan. Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson, who represents the Milton City Council on the TPO, went against the council's majority decision and voted in favor of the widening project at the most recent TPO meeting.

"As far as the change (in my vote), more clarity was brought to that," Johnson said. "I do understand that all those routes had been researched from an engineering point of view, I would say from an historic point of view and a species point of view and I just within myself knew that the experts were correct on that.

"They had researched everything," she added. "One other thing that caused me to not cast a nay vote is that I know through my research is that downtown Milton is a gateway to heavy development and traffic."

Johnson said she did tell the TPO about the City Council's stance on the project before the vote was taken.

According to Johnson, the TPO had been working with the city on preserving historical sites and found that this route was the best one to take. She said it became clear that any alternate routes that could have been taken would have caused more harm to historical areas in the city.

Johnson said she can see FDOT working with Milton on building walking routes and bike paths and other things as the projects move forward. Johnson said the County Commissioners also want to continue to work with the city to make it grow. 

"This is has been a long project," she said. "The Board of County Commissioners have worked with us for over 30 years....they want to continue to work with us and they want to untie some of the strings that causes us not to grow economically. And one of those was due to some of the things we have said. And the understanding is there, they appreciate that, but it's time to move on and the only way to move forward in Milton that I see is to move that gateway in Milton, East Milton, West Milton so that we can enjoy the cultural and economic diversity." 

For years the city of Milton has been divided on the issue with many arguing that the widening will destroy the character and walk-ability of downtown and feared the destruction of the Fisher Hamilton Building, though the FDOT has stated they would move it brick by brick to a new location. Those in favor of the project said it will bring more business and tourism to downtown.