A Position Paper in Support of a Bypass North of Choctawhatchee Bay
The report contained herein is a position paper in support of a bypass concept to be built
north of Choctawhatchee Bay running east/west from Bay County to Western Okaloosa County.1
This position is supported by a coalition of chambers of commerce Okaloosa County: Crestview
Area Chamber of Commerce, Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Fort Walton Beach
Chamber of Commerce, and the Niceville-Valparaiso-Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. This
unprecedented coalition of business organizations represents more than 3,000 businesses in the
region and reflects the desire of the organizations to see this bypass approved and supported by
the Northwest Florida Transportation Corridor Authority.
The concept of the bypass is simple. The needs are obvious. With Highway 98 being the
main thoroughfare in the region, traffic congestion reaches nearly unbearable levels. Commute
times for employees of the region are extended due to this congestion. With local populations
more than doubling due to tourists, especially during the summer months and holidays, the
infrastructure now in place is inadequate to handle the traffic volume.
The bypass would also improve the efficiency of evacuations when hurricanes approach
the region. During construction of the bypass, roads can also be upgraded to prevent damage
Our concept calls for Highway 331 to be widened to four lanes from Highway 98 in
South Walton County to Interstate 10 near Defuniak Springs, including widening the bridge over
Choctawhatchee Bay. The intersection with Highway 20 should be changed to a junction with
an overpass and on/off exit ramps. This allows for traffic to continue moving without stopping
for traffic lights in turn improves commute times.
Highway 20 should be four lanes from Highway 79 in Bay County going west to
Niceville in Okaloosa County.2 With a junction3 at Highway 331 rather than an intersection,
traffic would continue to flow rather than having to stop for traffic lights. During this expansion
the highway should also be improved in areas of possible hurricane damage. An example would
be in the area of Basin Bayou, where Hurricane Ivan washed away sections of the road, making
When the expanded Highway 20 reaches the Niceville/Bluewater Bay area, it would link
to the section that is already four lanes. It is at this point that the Mid Bay Bridge Authority’s
access road would intersect Highway 20. A junction4 here is also suggested so that traffic will
not have to stop on either roadway.
At this junction, travelers would have the option of taking the Mid Bay access road to the
north of Niceville to its intersection with Highway 85.5 It is at this point that the roadway could
intersect with the proposed bypass running from near Hurlburt Field in west Okaloosa County to
Niceville.6 This would provide unimpeded traffic flow from Bay County to the Hurlburt Field
area of Okaloosa County and provide an alternate route to Highway 98. While the route would
be longer in miles, it would be shorter in commute time. Traffic congestion through Okaloosa
and South Walton Counties would be dramatically decreased.7
While this bypass is important to the region, improvements to Highway 98 through the
Destin area are also crucial to traffic flow. We support improvements to Highway 98 through
this area. As highway 98 approaches the harbor district in Destin, an area now known as Harbor
Boulevard, we support and encourage any improvements that lend to a pedestrian-friendly
district utilizing multi-modal transportation options and stops.
We feel these improvements in infrastructure will alleviate many of the traffic issues our
region now faces. We respectfully submit this plan to you for your consideration and approval.
1. With the Air Force’s support for a bypass through their reservation, the scope of this
concept is finally possible. The approach to its implementation needs to focus heavily on
traffic movement, rather than property access; i.e., develop the bypass as a limited access
corridor as much as possible.
2. This widening is critical in order for the bypass concept to have a regional benefit.
3. A grade separated interchange.
4. A grade separated interchange.
5. The April 2005 Mid-Bay Bridge North Extension Scoping Report identified four
Alternatives (A, B, C, and D). It identified Alternative C as the desired alternative,
largely due to the minimal impact to Eglin. Similarly, Alternative A was not
recommended due to its high impact to Eglin.
6. If the bypass route terminated at SR 85 as the April 2005 Mid-Bay Bridge North
Extension Scoping Report leaves it, Alternative C is a reasonable choice. However, with
the bypass route continuing to Western Okaloosa County, Alternative C becomes very
undesirable since it incorporates College Blvd. as part of its route. Utilizing College
Blvd. west of SR 85 would make the bypass route ineffectual. Alternative C is
incompatible with the broader scope of the Bay County to Western Okaloosa County
bypass corridor. Alternative A would provide a much more effective bypass segment and
transition into Eglin because its access would be more limited; it is also much more
feasible now since the Air Force is willing to allow a bypass route through the Eglin
7. As long as the route has limited access.