Okaloosa County residents recently got a look at the Florida Department of Transportation’s latest plans for replacement of the Brooks Bridge in Fort Walton Beach. It’s early in the process, but already there are some mixed feelings about what’s being considered.
At this point, the FDOT is studying two options, which residents were able to review and ask questions about during a kick off meeting in late April. The primary plan is to replace the 50-year-old bridge that connects downtown Fort Walton Beach with Okaloosa Island over U.S. 98. But, a secondary bridge is also being considered.
Nathan Boyles, Chairman of the Okaloosa County Commission, says the process is an important one, and the decisions being made will have a far reaching impact for the future, "And, so we need to be thinking not what are needs are today but what are needs are in fifty years. And I think in that context, I think DOT is heading in the right direction which not to just consider the sole replacement of Brooks Bridge but to look at traffic circulation in and around southern Okaloosa County with a bigger lens to see if alternate or additional routes may be needed in the future.
Kris Pattison, a resident of Okaloosa Island is against any changes, “We’re happy to have the bridge replaced. But, that’s it. We only want the bridge replaced. Not to put it on Wright Parkway, Hollywood or any of the other places.”
She’s among those who are afraid that a second span will disrupt the peace and quiet she enjoys in her neighborhood, “When we got to the point where we could buy a condo, we looked in Navarre, we looked in Gulf Shores, we looked in Destin, we looked all up and down, everywhere. And Okaloosa was nice and quiet and not traffic going by so it takes ten minutes to get out of your driveway. So, that’s the point, I want it to stay like what I bought.”
Sharing Pattison’s concerns about the neighborhood is Scott Diemer who also lives on Okaloosa Island. Diemer says he’s also apprehensive about how replacing Brooks Bridge will impact the downtown corridor, “We’ve already heard that due to changes in laws, the approaches to the bridge will have to be extended and elevated. And so, I do have sympathies for how we’re going to address that and make the downtown Ft. Walton people happy.”
Meantime, business owners also have a vested interest in which avenues are pursued in relation to the replacement of Brooks Bridge.
Peter Bos is the Chairman and CEO of Legendary Inc. More commonly associated with the Harbor Walk, Destin Commons, Regatta Bay, and Legendary Marine, “ I am very concerned of the long term sustainability of commerce in Ft. Walton Beach. I think that the decisions made regarding a one or two bridge solution potentially have draconian impacts on the future of Ft. Walton Beach.”
He claims to have taken a lot of criticism for starting the conversation about a possible two bridge solution. But, Bos says whatever decisions are made his main goal is to see the city thrive, “A lot of people somehow think I have some dog in the hunt, my dog in the hunt in the well being of the entire north Gulf Coast. And, if Ft. Walton continues to have a decline in sales tax and a decline in property values then it hurts everybody. And, I feel like I’m part of this community and as a concerned citizen I’m involved. Even though it might in the short term hurt me, because of less shopping, that’s not really that important.”
More opportunities for citizens to weigh in on the Brooks Bridge project will be available. Ian Satter, Public Information Director with DOT says volunteering to be part of the Stakeholder Advisory Board is a good way to participate in the process and have your voice heard, “Obviously we can do a lot with our team and our consultants but it really does come down to having that local input that really helps us out the most. So, having the locals that are in attendance who are involved throughout the process, for the four year process is essential for us because it helps us keep track of what the community wants as a whole.”
More information on the Brooks Bridge Replacement and Santa Rosa Sound Alternate Crossing Studies as well as applications for the Stakeholder Advisory Group can be found at nwflroads.com