Highway Project Controversy

Plans are to eventually four lane Highway 79, from Panama City Beach to the Alabama state line. The Highway 79 project is part of efforts by the State of Florida and federal agencies to create four-laned evacuation routes in the event of a hurricane. However, Vernon city officials and business owners feel one aspect of the project is detrimental to their community.

For several years, Michael Birge has operated his auto repair business in downtown Vernon. Last week, he learned the Florida Department of Transportation would like to build a raised median, once Highway 79 is four-laned. Birge says such a barrier would prevent or at least make it difficult for customers to get to his business. Birge says that if the median is put in, he might as well sell his business. He says the raised mdian will hurt businesses on both sides of Highway 79.

In five years, the Florida DOT envisions replacing the old Vernon Bridge, and four-lane Highway 79 through downtown. One produce stand owner believes it will be the end of his livelihood. Scott Brock, of Brock's Produce, says there is already limited parking and a raised median would "ruin us."

Downtown Vernon will change drastically in coming years with the four-laning effort, but local officials cannot understand the raised median project. Last week, the Vernon City Council approved a resolution opposing the Highway 79 raised median project. The resolution is being sent to local, state and federal lawmakers.