U.S. 98 roads widening: public voices concerns

The U.S 98 to be widened from Phillips Inlet Bridge to SR 79. Lanes will be converted from four...
The U.S 98 to be widened from Phillips Inlet Bridge to SR 79. Lanes will be converted from four to six lanes.(WJHG)
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 11:45 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The U.S. 98 Public Development and Environment study is near completion. Tuesday evening The Florida Department of Transportation held a public hearing, one of the last steps in the phase.

The hearing took place at the 5 Bridges Church located at 17495 Panama City Beach Parkway in Panama City Beach.

More than a dozen residents attended the meeting where they were able to voice their concerns, ask questions and learn more about the project which will widen Back Beach Road from Phillips Inlet Bridge on the Walton County line to State Road 79 in Bay County by converting the road from four lanes to six lanes. The project will also include replacing the Phillip Inlet Bridge, adding medians to roadways, and a new traffic light at the intersection near 98 and Sandal Lane. At least two businesses will potentially be relocated as a result of the improvement project.

Lindsey Harrell is the Florida Department of Transportation District 3 Public Information Specialist. She says the main purpose of the widening project is to improve safety.

“It’s going to add capacity, it’s also going to enhance the ability for us to be able to move goods across the roadway,” Harrell said. “This is a major hurricane evacuation route and so we want to make sure the roadways can handle traffic in a time like that.”

Bob Reid lives near Pinnacle Port. He is one of several residents who attended the public hearing to lay his concerns on the line.

“Our concern is that at Pinnacle Port which also shares an entrance to Caroline Beach it’s going to be impacted by the additional lanes of traffic,” said Reid. “Already we have some issues, especially in the high-volume times of July and spring break, Memorial Day weekend, so it becomes a problem at the intersection because you have our entrance on the south side, there’s pirate cove on the north side all trying to access the roads.”

Panama City Beach resident Molly Allen was also in attendance.

“Always my concern is for water quality,” said Allen. “My question today was what is going into the lakes potentially from this project any freshwater lakes that are in the scope of the project and what the FDOT is doing to protect them.”

Residents who chose to ask a question at the public hearing will receive an emailed response.

FDOT representatives say the U.S. 98 PD&E study phase is completed the design phase will begin.

They expected the project to be completed within the next five to 10 years.

The widening project is expected to cost at least $400 million.