(PNJ 9/2/15, by Will Isern) It’s no secret Santa Rosa Island has a traffic problem.
With the exception of the early birds, anyone who has tried going to Pensacola Beach during the weekend this summer has likely sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
The lone stop light on the beach at the intersection of Via De Luna and Fort Pickens Road can create back ups stretching to the Bob Sikes Bridge toll booth. Pedestrians crossing the street from Casino Beach to the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk create further delays, not to mention a safety hazard.
The problem isn’t new, but has become increasingly worse as tourism numbers have continued to rise year over year since the BP oil spill.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem,” Escambia County commissioner Grover Robinson said.
The Board of County Commissioners is well aware of the issues beachgoers encounter, and will begin on Thursday to take steps to alleviate some of the traffic congestion.
But first they will do what governments do: conduct a study. Commissioners on Thursday will consider allocating $450,000 of local option sales tax money to update the 2010 Pensacola Beach Master Plan to determine how best to alleviate the traffic congestion.
As part of the update, whatever engineering firm the county hires will also be responsible for designing some short term fixes like traffic modifications for the Casino Beach and Circle K parking lots, as well as some potential long term improvements like a pedestrian flyover at the stop light and a relocation of the Santa Rosa Island Authority building.
As part of the same agenda item, commissioners will also consider allocating $1.25 million for drainage improvements on the island. Drainage problems exist on some of the residential back roads and in the Casino Beach parking lots.
“I tell people, I can’t help it if the bay rises, but if it rains and you get a lake in your front yard, we should be able to do something about that,” Robinson said.
In coming from local option sales tax, the two expenditures on the island highlight the county’s newly expanded role on Santa Rosa Island following the reduction of the Island Authority.
“The people who are paying taxes expect to get the same services everybody else is,” he said. “It’s time to start taking that money back there and start fixing things.”
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