The Santa Rosa Island Authority recently approved one of two plans presented by Baskerville Donovan for a Master Plan for Pensacola Beach. The plan is now getting lots of attention from the community and the local media – both positive and negative. Here is a quick recap of how we got to our current situation. Please visit our Master Plan web page for past articles and relevant links.
Over the past 15 years there have been numerous plans proposed to improve Pensacola Beach (especially the Core Area), but none of them gained widespread support. There was a sense that change was needed, but what to change?
The current Master Plan project was initiated over two years ago by the SRIA, and was initially spearheaded by a Steering Committee of 13 citizens representing a cross section of Pensacola Beach stakeholders – residents, business owners, and mainland citizens. The goals were:
- Address the parking issue on the island – on certain days of the year the available parking is overwhelmed. Upon further study, it was determined that although there are about 15 days a year where parking is inadequate, no amount of additional parking or parking garages could fill the needs on those days. On many other days the issue is more one of a misallocation of parking – more parking is needed near the Quietwater beaches and facilities and less by the Casino Beach beaches and facilities.
- Improve the flow of traffic on the island – both vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic. Improve the flow of traffic into the Casino parking lot. Improve public safety. Improve the signalized intersection, which currently is rated “D” by the FL Department of Transportation.
- Create a new and improved overall image of Pensacola Beach to help it fulfill its role as “Escambia County’s Playground” and a tourist destination that differentiates itself from competing Gulf Coast tourist destinations.
The EDSA Master Plan
In the spring of 2010, the Steering Committee and the SRIA approved a conceptual plan presented by EDSA, a community planning organization, that envisioned a number of improvements to the Beach, including a redesign of the Core Area to include two elevated roadways to separate vehicle traffic from pedestrian traffic, three traffic circles, and a pedestrian walkway connecting the Quietwater and Gulf sides of the Core Area. The cost of the Core Area improvements was estimated to be $25 million, which made up a significant portion of the overall EDSA Master Plan cost of $47 million.
Escambia County Engineering Review
In the Spring of 2011, Escambia County engaged Baskerville Donovan (BDI) to review the engineering feasibility of the EDSA Master Plan. BDI concluded that the elements of the EDSA Master Plan outside of the Core Area were buildable, but that several problems existed with the Core Area recommendations:
- The traffic circles were determined to be unworkable. It requires a lot of space to have a two lane traffic circle, and the angle of entry for the roads on Pensacola Beach would not permit safe entry and exit from the circles. Additionally, many drivers are unfamiliar with traffic circles, and they could prove confusing for locals as well as tourists.
- The EDSA plan provided good pedestrian access from the Gulf side to the Quietwater side of the Core Area, but provided poorer access between those two sides and the Little Sabine (west) side of the Core Area.
- There was simply too little space in the Core Area to accommodate three traffic circles and two elevated roadways – the project was “unbuildable”.
Combined BDI/EDSA concepts for the Core Area
In January 2012 BDI and EDSA combined efforts to resolve these issues and come up with two new concepts for the Core Area – one with a pedestrian overpass, and one with an elevated road and a pedestrian underpass. These were presented to the SRIA on January 14th, and on February 8th, the SRIA approved “Plan B” with elevated roadways and
a pedestrian underpass as well as significant other improvements to the core Area in terms of enhanced parking, a new park/event area and more landscaping. The total estimated cost of these improvements is $25 million, or the same as the original 2010 estimate.
Plan B accomplishes the original goals of the planning process, and addresses all the problems with the original EDSA plan.
- Plan B effectively separates vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and creates a much safer Core Area.
- Plan B provides greatly enhanced pedestrian access to all three sides of the Core Area – it truly makes Pensacola
Beach the only resort community with a true “Beach to Bay” experience.
- Plan B provides a roadway leading directly into the main Casino parking lot.
- Plan B connects the Quietwater and Casino parking lots – providing vehicular access between the lots without going onto the roads.
- Plan B eliminates the traffic circles.
- Plan B is “Buildable”.
- Plan B creates a new and defining image for Pensacola Beach – distinguishing it from all the competing resort communities on the Gulf Coast.
The one thing that Plan B does not do is increase the amount of parking in the Core Area – in fact it is projected to lose about 300 – or 15% – of the current spaces. BDI said all along that it would be impossible to accomplish the other goals without losing some parking. We can only hope that as we go through the design process that some of those spaces can be saved.
Lastly, there is concerned expressed about the cost of the project – $25 million. That is a lot of money. But it is consistent with the cost of the original plan approved 2 years ago. And only $17 million of it is for the roadways – the other $8 million is for landscaping, hardscaping and contingencies. Again, through the design process, we hope to find savings.
Next Steps and Opportunity for Input
What’s next? The leaseholders and stakeholders on Pensacola Beach will have two opportunities for input on the Plan.
Escambia County will host two public information meetings in early March for the Pensacola Beach Master Plan alternatives. The meetings will begin with a presentation by County staff and the consultant, followed by an open format to allow individuals to ask staff questions on a one-on-one basis. The meeting dates and times are:
- Wednesday, March 7, at 5:30 p.m. at the Central Office Complex, 3363 West Park Place, Pensacola
- Thursday, March 8, at 5:30 p.m. at Our Lady of the Assumption-Hunt Hall, 920 Via de Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach
The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners will consider action on the Pensacola Beach Master Plan at its regular meeting on Thursday, March 15, at 5:30 p.m. in the Commission Chambers, 221 Palafox Place. For more information, contact Matt Mooneyham, Project Coordinator, at 595-3418, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Additionally, if the Escambia County BOCC approves Plan B, the next step would be to do the engineering design. Such a process provides for public input meetings at several stages, where stakeholders can continue to voice their concerns about things like the loss of parking, the aesthetics of the pedestrian underpass, linkage to other transportation forms like the Beach trolleys or ferries, and, of course, the cost.
Additional Information and Comments
The list of links below are various opinions and news articles printed about the plan. If you care what happens to Pensacola beach, take the time to do your homework and read the plan. Then let the County Commissioners know what you think. If you don’t get involved in the process, then don’t complain about the results!
View prior articles on our website.
Gulf Breeze News – SRIA Okays $25 Million Roadway Plan (02/16/2012)
View PB Master Plan on SRIA Website (Jan 24, 2012)
Gulf Breeze News – Proposed beach road upgrades stir controvery (2/9/2012)
Gulf Breeze News – Letter to the Editor: Stop Improving Pensacola Beach (2/2/2012)
Island Times – SRIA Board Votes for Overpass at Marathon Meeting (2/16/2012)
PNJ – Pensacola Beach Plans Unveiled – 1/25/2012
PNJ – Is an Elevated Roadway Worth $25M? 2/8/2012