“The road really functions as a state highway,” said Williamson in reference to the amount of travelers on Woodbine (CR-197A) on a daily basis. He points to 2018 FDOT Annual Average Daily Traffic count reports that show 18,700 vehicles on the roadway, a 13 percent increase since 2014.
“So, it’s one of the top North-South corridors in Santa Rosa County. It’s comparable to Avalon Boulevard; it’s right up there with the same amount of cars that travel thru portions of Avalon. And, it even has comparable numbers to portions of Davis Highway.”
Williamson has sent a letter to FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault and also drafted a letter to Santa Rosa County requesting they begin the initial review process for considering the Woodbine Road transfer.
“Obviously, there has to be agreement between the county and between FDOT,” Williamson said. “There is a process in place that is outlined in Florida Statute 335.0415 that pretty much tells whenever the state takes over these facilities, the process you have to go through. But, my letter is simply just asking the county and the secretary to begin those processes and let’s see.”
Williamson, who says he hears about the road from constituents on a regular basis, is from the Pace area and has had his own experiences with the traffic congestion on Woodbine Road. He believes having the state take it over would make it easier to secure funding for improvements.
“I did try to get funding for portions of Woodbine last year and got it through the legislature, and got it funded in the budget. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the governor,” declared Williamson. “And, some of the sentiment was that this is a county road, a county facility, and the county should be taking care of that. So, my thought was, if that’s where we’re at, then maybe we can see what it may be like for the state to take it over and when I seek funding, I’m seeking it for a state highway.”
“You know initial reaction is, ‘Absolutely, we would love any help from our state legislature or FDOT that we could get on Woodbine Road, but don’t suspect that that’s a high probability turnout,” said Santa Rosa County Commission Chairman Sam Parker.
Parker represents District 1, which includes Pace. He cautions even if they could get the state to take over Woodbine Road, it would go into the FDOT Five-Year Work Plan and would be one of many state projects locally to go before the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, which he also now chairs.
“The state has a work program that we work with Escambia County with and there’s only so much FDOT funding every year,” Parker said. He pointed to priority projects on the list, such as the widening of U.S. Highway 98 and the construction of a new interstate interchange near Navy Federal Credit Union in Beulah, that have higher congestion levels than Woodbine Rd.
“So, everything has to be weighted or triaged, so to speak, against other roadways in the area that are competing for the same funding from FDOT.”
According to Parker, going the state control route would mean a 10-20 year timeframe. He believes it would be more expedient for the county to move forward with improvement projects.
However, with Santa Rosa voters recently rejecting a referendum to expand the Local Option Sales Tax from a half-cent to a full penny over 10 years, the big elephant in the room is how to pay for them. Parker thinks the path to county funding still lies with the one-cent, but likely hinges on reinstatement of impact fees, possibly by May.
“Best case (scenario) is that you have impact fees and then you go back to the voters and ask for that increase in the Local Option Sales Tax like we did before and hope that we heard the citizens correctly,” said Chairman Parker.
“I heard a lot of folks say they would vote for it if we had impact fees. And, if they voted for that sales tax, like I told people the last time, we could actually immediately start Woodbine Road the following year.”
The sales is most expedient because it gives commissioners the ability to borrow from future revenue projections, which they cannot do with impact fees.
Parker has expressed some reservations based on previous discussions with the Department of Transportation about Woodbine Road. But, says he expects the county will oblige Williamson and open a conversation.
“I think what you will see is we’ll bring this to our board of county commissioners to vote, really just a formal resolution request from the state and I think you’ll see that at our December meeting,” said the commission chairman.
For his part, Williamson says his proposal to transfer jurisdiction of Woodbine Road to the state should not be viewed as criticism of Santa Rosa County commissioners, but rather an effort to work with them to make the busy road safer for everyone.