If you have been anywhere on the beach during this years Spring Break, you’ve noticed no doubt that traffic has been unusually bad this year. Sure, Front Beach Road is a given, avoid that traffic-trap at all costs. Traffic on FBR was so astonishingly bad, that Saturday night officials from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office had to close Front Beach Road from 6p.m. until at least 10p.m. But, even Panama City Beach Parkway, known for providing a speedy getaway for residents looking to circumvent the knots of cars, was slammed with bumper to bumper traffic. In fact, the traffic was so bad on the afternoon of the Car Show at Frank Brown Park that Eastbound traffic was backed up will beyond highway 79, leaving a trail of stories of residents taking 388 into town. One could argue that this whole traffic matter was simply a Spring Break phenomenon, but with the new airport coming online, some predict this is only the start of a growing problem. So what’s the deal?
I talked to Paul Casto, the Public Works director on Panama City Beach and he had an interesting take on the whole mess. “Its a three part issue,” He said. “Number one, I believe we simply have more people. More residents and an increase in the number of vacationers. Second, there have been three additional lights added; one at Allison, one at Nautilus and one at Pier Park. That naturally will slow the traffic. But the biggest change, I think, is that East of the Hathaway Bridge a light synchronization system was put into place.”
Before, traffic would bottleneck around the bridge due to the way the lights worked: lots of people, lots of random lights and, voila, traffic buildup. But East of the bridge implemented a traffic light synchronization system. This expensive system works to improve mobility on congested local highways and streets by keeping the signals synchronized, placing vehicle detectors in the pavement to detect the presence of vehicles, coordinating the timing of the signals between successive intersections, and automatically adjusting the traffic signals to facilitate the movement of vehicles through the intersections. Basically, now near and East of the bridge traffic flows a lot better subsequently dumping more traffic, more quickly onto the beach where there is no synchronization in the traffic light system. So the bottleneck that used to exist, didn’t disappear, it simply has been transferred to the other spots like Front Beach Road and Richard Jackson Boulevard.
Very soon, two more street lights are set to be in place at Moylan and another at Clara Avenue. These two streetlights, with growing development throughout Panama City Beach could make traffic intolerably bad.
Mr. Casto went on to say, “It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it. ” The question is, what can be done to nip this burgeoning problem in the bud?
Mr. Casto provided a simple answer in part 2 of our series. Stay tuned….