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Work To Widen U.S. Highway 98 On Hold

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Florida’s Department of Transportation is busy these days preparing a long-term plan to widen U.S. 98 to six lanes. But any such project remains well down the road.

DOT’s Ian Satter says the work is aimed at the portion of highway from Avalon Boulevard to Gulf Islands National Seashore. The rights-of-way acquisitions are part of the agency’s Five Year Work Program -- which has U.S. 98 improvements planned for next year, 2016 and 2017.

But when it comes to FDOT’s budget to build the additional lanes, he says for now, they’re running on empty.

“We have a lot of projects that are on our wish list, things we would like to do in the future,” said Satter. “But there’s just not funding to do all of them. But, the one thing about our five-year work program, is that it is updated every year.”

The 2015 improvement project is budgeted at $4.3 million. The Department of Transportation looks at the priorities set by groups such as the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization. Satter says the input plays a role in determining where the funding is needed.

Shawn Ward, Santa Rosa County’s Transportation Planner, says $7.5 million was earmarked in 2013 for purchasing rights-of-way land on 98.

“They’ve identified areas for retention ponds, easements and things of that nature. And so at that point, within the next few years, they’ll be going through and purchasing that right-of-way,” said Ward.

The Department of Transportation has managed to save some money through the bids that were made for the current work. Those dollars have been placed into projects that may otherwise still be on the drawing board.

Ward remains optimistic that something can be worked out to fire up the bulldozers. One advantage he points to is that the U.S. 98 plan is a project that’s been identified by the Florida-Alabama TPO.

The basic mantra from the Florida Department of Transportation, says Ward, is that if a project doesn’t make the agency’s five-year program -- then it simply doesn’t exist.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.