Over the last 18 months, crews have been working quickly to widen the length of Highway 79 from two lanes to four lanes with much of it split with a large grass median. For those of you that travel up 79, you know this has been a heaven send and has made the road much easier to navigate. Last week at a city council meeting they voted to move forward on the extension of the widening south of Back Beach Road, or Panama City Beach Parkway.
One of the big hang-ups all along has been how to execute this with the dynamics of an awkwardly designed Y intersection that put businesses close to the corridor of travel.
Up for discussion was two options. The first option – a round-about – was mocked up at the suggestion of Panama City Beach Mayor Gayle Oberst. The idea was to have something decorative with a signature piece in the middle – sort of “center of Panama City Beach” signature piece. The intersection would have plenty of green area that could be used for landscaping etc. The only problem was that the pedestrian friendliness turned into sort of a bully with this configuration. In order to get from the west side of 79 on Front Beach Road to the northeast side without the threat of being beaten up by a car, one had to walk a quarter mile east, cross the road, then follow the curve of the new Y. Engineers stressed that this intersection is heavily traveled by peds of all shapes and sizes and had a fairly comprehensive list as to why this version of the intersection was not conducive for what they wanted to do.
The second concept was to do away with the Y all together and go with a more conventional intersection – the T intersection. This was, at first, not the most favored suggestion as when the walk-about, er round-about option was first show, there were actually sighs in the meeting (I exaggerate not!). However, after a few short minutes of the presentation, it became quite clear which one was way more practical.
I have to say, the round-about option certainly seemed more aesthetically pleasing to me, although I was not one of the people that sighed ;-). The engineers from PBS&J, who work closely with Ben Faust of DRMP (in charge of pushing the Front Beach Road CRA forward) came up with a pretty good laundry list as to why the round-about option was less than favorable when compared to the more traditional T intersection:
- Only allows for transit lane traveling in one direction – from west to east
- In order for transit to travel from east to west, it would need to navigate the round-about
- Pedestrian crossing not as safe as crossing points would not be signalized
- No access management – there are several points of entry from exterior and lining businesses and access to the round about corridor wouldn’t be able to be easily managed
- No dedicated bicycle lanes
- Would not be able to adequately accommodate emergency vehicles
- Would be quite a bit more expensive to construct
- The construction time would be longer
- The round about would effect more parcels
The result of the evening? The board unanimously approved to move forward with the T-intersection concept.
So, many of you may be wondering what will happen to the existing businesses that are comfortably placed in the center of The Y. Located there is a gas station and our beloved Joey’s on the Beach II. When asked, I was given the response: “Well, it would be acquired.”