FDOT plans to replace the four-lane bridge on U.S. Highway 98 that opened in 1966 with a new six-lane structure across Santa Rosa Sound to the barrier island. (Map courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation)
The preliminary construction to replace western Florida's John T. Brooks Bridge, connecting Fort Walton Beach to Okaloosa Island in the state's Panhandle, will begin in the coming weeks, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced Jan. 5.
The state agency plans to replace the four-lane bridge on U.S. Highway 98 that opened in 1966 with a new six-lane structure across Santa Rosa Sound to the barrier island. Drivers will begin to cross the new span on the mainland at Fort Walton Beach's Perry Avenue before reaching its end at Pier Road on Okaloosa Island.
The construction zone will stretch from one block west of Perry at Eglin Parkway (Florida Place Southeast) to the project's end point.
The current bridge stops at Santa Rosa Boulevard, but designs call for the new one to include a separate turn-off and underpass section on the island for traffic heading to and from Okaloosa. By extending the structure east past the U.S. 98/Santa Rosa Boulevard intersection, FDOT is hoping for a better traffic flow and eliminate the need for the current traffic signals.
"This work includes relocating utilities on and around Brooks Street, U.S. 98, and the south side of Publix at the Shoppes at Paradise Point shopping center," according to the FDOT press release. "In the coming weeks, crews plan to realign Brooks Street from Perry Avenue to the Brooks Bridge to provide space to construct the new westbound structure."
Drainage improvements will be part of the project's preliminary construction as well as the installation of erosion control devices, lane shifts and completing needed permits. The early activities will begin beneath the west side of the current bridge in Fort Walton Beach before advancing eastward onto Okaloosa Island, FDOT noted.
The larger structural construction is slated to get under way this spring before wrapping up by mid-2027, according to FDOT estimates.
New Bridge to Be Longer, Wider, Higher
The planned Brooks Bridge will measure 2,111 ft. in length — 793 ft. longer than the current span and road structure. Its vertical clearance also is set to increase from 50- to 65 ft. above the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway's main 150-ft.-wide channel in the beach town to meet U.S. Coast Guard regulations.
It also will be built wider, with 10-ft. inside and outside shoulders for vehicles than its predecessor. Additionally, a dedicated 12-ft.-wide shared-use path is planned in each direction for pedestrians and bicyclists and separated from traffic by protective barrier walls featuring scenic overlooks and shade structures.
FDOT reported this heavily traveled segment of the U.S. 98 corridor in Fort Walton Beach carries an average annual daily traffic count (AADT) of 66,000 drivers over the Santa Rosa Sound and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
While major disruptions are not anticipated, the transportation department said it expects changes and delays to the city's tourist season in 2023.
"Drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and nearby properties may be impacted by the early construction efforts and the associated traffic shifts," FDOT noted. "All activities are weather-dependent and may be delayed or rescheduled in the event of inclement weather. Drivers are reminded to use caution, especially at night, when traveling through a work zone and to watch for construction workers and equipment entering and exiting the roadway."
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