Gulf Islands National Seashore is hosting an open house Tuesday, to gather public input on the proposed relocation of a stretch of Fort Pickens Road.
This is a road that’s been around for more than a half-century. But in the past decade, says Gulf Islands Superintendent Dan Brown, the easternmost portion nearest the Gulf of Mexico has been hit numerous times by high surf and tides and storm surge – most notably from Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis. Brown says that part of the road has become so vulnerable that it no longer takes a hurricane or tropical storm to dump sand and over wash on it.
The project – which carries a $6 million price tag and is subject to the federal National Environmental Policy, or “NEPA” Act -- calls for moving just under two miles of the road further inland. Another three miles of existing roadway would be paved.
The plan is fairly straightforward. The existing road will remain open during the realignment work, to avoid disrupting public access to the park. Brown says there will be a minor disruption during the overlay process, which will close one lane, then the other to traffic. Mother Nature is also being taken into consideration.
“We’ve selected a route, we walked it very carefully, to avoid to the greatest extent possible any of the existing dunes and dune vegetation, and wetlands and so forth” said Brown. “Some of the curves, in order to avoid the dunes, are a little bit sharper.”
In all likelihood, the speed limit on Fort Pickens Road will drop from the current 35-miles-an-hour during non-shorebird nesting season, to 20-miles-per-hour year-round because of the sharper curves. Prior to the rebuild after Dennis, Brown says working through the NEPA process took more than three years – but resulted in some improvements.
“They lowered the elevation of the road with the thought that they wanted the over-wash and sand to cover the asphalt, thinking that would protect it,” Brown said. “Thus far that has been happening, and the asphalt itself after we removed the sand has still been intact. So that certainly saved a lot of time and money from having to rebuild the road.”
In terms of a construction schedule, this is a project to be funded in Fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1st, and is being placed on as fast a track as possible. The project also includes an additional lane at the park’s entrance station to speed up visitor access. And Parking Lot 22 – which is prone to flooding – will be reconfigured.
The informal open house is set for Tuesday from 3:00 to 7:00 pm at the Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center, located on U.S. 98 just east of Gulf Breeze. To view and comment on the environmental assessment and park plan, go HERE.