Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Repairs Slated for 'Opal Beach' Road

For the past three years State Highway 399 has been closed between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach. As a consequence the mid-way point of "Opal Beach" -- the jewel in the crown of Gulf Islands National Seashore, as those with a taste for cliches have called it -- has been inaccessible for tens of thousands of visitors whether they hail from here or from afar.

Photos of the road's current condition like the one above can be viewed on the web site known as Pensacola's Greatest, along with other Pensacola Beach snapshots.

At long last, this week it was announced that post-hurricane repairs to the roadway are about to begin. After much dithering over possible redesigns, alternative materials, temporary roadways, and the inevitable expense it looks like the U.S. Park Service will be content with [drum roll....] the same old, same old.

Fort Walton's Northwest Daily News has the story:
Construction on the long-damaged State Road 399 connecting Navarre Beach to Pensacola Beach is finally expected to start in about two weeks.

About 30 percent of the 7-mile roadway sustained damage during Hurricane Dennis in 2005, said Jerry
Eubanks, superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The roadway has been redesigned to be repaired as inexpensively as possible.

Panhandle Paving & Grading has signed a contract to repair the damaged roadway and will use a sand and cement mixture for the base of the road repairs to keep cost down. An asphalt overlay will go over the mixture.
* * *
The roadway sustained considerable damage by Hurricane Ivan’s storm surges in September 2004. Repairs were nearly completed and the road was temporarily reopened for the July 4, 2005, weekend. The roadway was damaged again a week later when Hurricane Dennis washed it out July 10.

The construction will be completed in three phases. The section from Navarre Beach to Opal Beach park will be completed first, followed by repairs to Opal Beach park and finally from the park to Pensacola Beach.
How long the new road repairs will last, estimated not long ago to cost $5 million, is any one's guess. It all depends on future hurricanes. After Hurricane Opal destroyed so many dunes in 1995 it took about ten years for the sea oats to grow back to maturity.

Will we have that much time before the next hurricane? It's any one's guess. Apparently, multiple and conflicting guesses like those of the once-revered Dr. William Gray, are welcome, too.

On Pensacola Beach, Highway 399 is known as Via De Luna until it reaches the east end of the beach community. There, ironically in the shadows cast by the Portofino high-rise complex, the road turns into "J. Earle Bowden Way" for a stretch -- so named to honor the former editor of the Pensacola News Journal who led the long and bitter fight back in the 1960's to preserve Pensacola Beach from over-development.

One should ask him, no doubt, but we have often thought that a more fitting tribute to Mr. Bowden would have been not to build Portofino at all. Instead, the county should have named the nearly 40 acres of wetlands on the site after Bowden and let them continue doing nature's job of absorbing the impact of flooding waters while mitigating the damage to dunes and sea grasses.

Alas, it was not to be. So, now we begin again.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

SO WHEN IS FORT PICKENS ROAD GOING TO BE FIXED??? MOST OF US WANT TO VISIT THE FORT A HECK OF A LOT MORE THAN WE WANT TO VISIT NAVARRE BEACH.

Realty Agent said...

The road from Pensacola Beach to Fort Pickens is said to reopen in the 2nd quarter of 2009. I really miss not being able to drive along that stretch of road. It's like driving back in time.