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Road Refurbishing Begins at Gulf Islands National Seashore

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Gulf Islands National Seashore
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  Major road work is getting underway at Gulf Islands National Seashore – again. 

The timing of the multiple projects is no accident. It’s late September and the end of the shorebird nesting season at Gulf Islands National Seashore, where Dan Brown is Superintendent. 

“We wrote that right into the contract, and wanted them to get started as quickly as they possibly could following the end of shorebird nesting season,” Brown said. “So that they would be completely done in March, when the shorebirds start nesting again.”

The $7.7 million project centers on 4.5 miles of Fort Pickens Road and 7.5 miles of County Road 399 – also known as J. Earle Bowden Way. Work began earlier this week on 399, milling the existing asphalt in preparation for laying fresh asphalt on top of it. The road will also become more bicycle-friendly.

“If you go out there today you can see sections where the bicycle lane has collapsed, been repaired, and collapsed and been repaired,” said Brown. “They’re actually going to cut them out, rebuild the road base underneath. And when they resurface, it will be one clean section of asphalt from edge to edge.”

Surveying Fort Pickens Road is already underway, and Brown says the initial work is expected to begin in late October or early November. While both roadways have had their issues over the years – especially after Hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Dennis in 2005, Brown says Fort Pickens Road perhaps has been the most problematic. 

“For that mile and a half stretch that’s right next to the Gulf, we get continued over-washing and burying in water and sand,” Brown said. “So that mile and a half, they’re going to physically reconstruct north some distance on the other side of the dune line.” 

This the latest in a series of construction – and reconstruction – projects on the roads that go through the Florida portion of the Seashore. After Ivan and Dennis, a new road design was installed.

“Fort Pickens road they completely redesigned, and lowered the elevation of the road,” said Brown. “So that when the water and sand washed over the road, the sand would bury the asphalt and protect that asphalt surface so it wouldn’t collapse.” 

But one problem was that Bowden Way was a bit higher and more susceptible to excess water. Back then, only 30% of CR-399 was destroyed by the storms, so the same work as was done to a totally-shattered Fort Pickens Road was never performed on Bowden Way.

“So they weren’t able to complete the redesign and lower the elevation like they did with the Fort Pickens roads,” Brown said. “

While the work is going on, parts of both roads will be closed to traffic. Superintendent Dan Brown says visitors need to use caution when traveling through the park. The anticipated end results of the project are fairly basic: extending the lifespan of the roads, with the realignment cutting down on the number of storm-related closures.