The Walton County Board of County Commissioners has committed to allocate $250,000 in Proportionate Fair Share Funds for a pedestrian underpass at U.S. Highway 98E in Inlet Beach.
The commitment is contingent on a $2 million state appropriation.
As the Inlet Beach area has seen an explosion of growth, many in the community have expressed concern about safety at the County Highway 30A and 98 intersection.
"This underpass is very much needed for the safety of locals and tourists alike," said Joe Freer, who owns restaurants in Inlet Beach. "It is also a vital part of getting pedestrians across the intersection safely to visit other local restaurants and businesses. I can't tell you how many wrecks I have seen and actually had to help with at this intersection."
Freer credits his brother, John, and other members of the community with doing a remarkable job of revitalizing and adding infrastructure to that end of the beach.
According to Walton County Traffic Engineer Chance Powell, the next step is design and permitting through Florida Department of Transportation.
The origin and exit points for the underpass will be southeast of the 30A/98 intersection in front of Shades at the Loop to the area between the Donut Hole and the entrance to 30Avenue on the north side of 98, said Powell.
Preliminary dimensions for the tunnel are 150-feet long, 10-feet wide, with an 8-foot height.
"This is for the tunnel only," said Powell. "There will be other work to make the tie-ins at each end."
The tunnel will be designed for pedestrians and cyclists only with a total cost of approximately $2.6 million.
"We think it's wonderful," said Rich Jaffe, board president of the Historic Inlet Beach Neighborhood Association. "We have so many people now staying on the north side of our community and crossing 98 to use the beach that it was only a matter of time before tragedy strikes. This will make our community safer for everyone."
Not everyone is happy about the tunnel, however.
When approved, local resident Coy Bowman told commissioners, "It's insane that you think you want to build underground in Florida."