A quick progress report on two local projects, the Florida 85/Florida 123 interchange improvements and the Mid-Bay Bridge connector, part of the Toll Florida 293 bypass around Niceville. The Florida 85/Florida 123 project is slated to be done by summer of 2012 while the Mid-Bay Bridge connector will be completed in stages over the next three years, with a portion of the first phase opening this Thursday, as posted in today’s edition of the Northwest Florida Daily News http://www.nwfdailynews.com/news/bridge-39942-section-connector.html

Map of Niceville showing the under construction and proposed alignment of the extension of Toll Florida 293 around the eastern and northern portions of the city. The toll route will eventually end at a trumpet interchange with Florida 85 about a mile north of College Drive.

Future Florida 85/Florida 123 Interchange improvements:

A guide sign with an older style Florida 123 shield lets motorists know of the impending departure.

Since a lot of traffic (regular and military) uses Florida 123 as a short-cut to get to Florida 85 northwest of Niceville, a well extended three-quarters of a mile left-turn lane exists to allow motorists the necessary room to queue for the turn. During peak hours in the afternoon this extended turn lane often fills quickly, and at times past capacity.

Northbound traffic along Florida 85 continues through a static green signal while traffic departing for Florida 123 north must wait for their phase of movement.

The wait here can often get long during the afternoon peak as commuters leave from the Fort Walton Beach and Eglin areas heading toward Crestview and beyond. The abutments and pier of future Florida 123 north are in place awaiting the installation of the beams.

A much shorter entrance to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport is now in place due the construction at Florida 123.

An interchange at the eastern end of the airport is planned as part of this project, allowing motorists from Florida 123 south to access the airport without having to cross Florida 85 traffic. A new entrance ramp to the airport will also be constructed along Florida 85 north.

Traffic along Florida 85 north is shifted to allow adequate room to work on the future interchange with Northwest Florida Regional Airport.

Once complete, Florida 85 will fly over an airport access road. Southbound traffic is also shifted onto a portion of the future access road that will one day serve traffic movements between Florida 123 and the airport.

Southbound Florida 123 approaching its southern terminus with Florida 85, the north bridge abutment of the future flyover for Florida 123 north comes into view.

Initial pavement has been laid on the north abutment and is awaiting the final construction of the flyover across Florida 85 and completion of the south abutment before traffic can be moved onto its new alignment.

Future Toll Florida 293 construction at various locations:

Support beams have been driven into the ground for the future overpass of Florida 293 over Range Road. The initial overpass will carry northbound and southbound traffic with a dual overpass being constructed as traffic demands increase.

The first phase of the Florida 293 toll extension will end here at Range Road, about a mile north of Florida 20 at what will be a future diamond interchange. The limited access highway will open to Range Road in mid summer.

Looking north along Range Road at Phase 2 of the Florida 293 toll extension. Clearing for this portion of the extension commenced in late January/early February.

This phase of the project will consist of construction of Florida 293 as a super-2 with a grade separated interchange at Florida 285, along with one at-grade intersection with an extended Forest Road. An open-road toll plaza will be erected between Range Road and Forest Road, allowing motorists the opportunity to continue on without having to stop and pay a toll. For those without SunPass (Florida’s toll collecting program) license plates will be scanned instead, as a part of the Toll-By-Plate program being initiated by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.

Heading east along Florida 20 at the future SPUI (single-point urban interchange) with Florida 293. The four-lane limited access highway will pass over Florida 20 as it begins its bypass around east Niceville.

The first phase of the project will realign Florida 293 along a new right-of-way around Niceville, eventually ending with Florida 85 at a trumpet interchange north of town. As a part of the extension project, a portion of Florida 20 southeastward of the current terminus of Florida 293 to just past the interchange is being widened to a four-lane arterial. Florida 293 will open up to this interchange on Thursday, May 12, 2011 with a ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for 9 AM.

As construction at the interchange progresses, traffic patterns along Florida 20 have changed and a 25 MPH speed limit has been implemented through the interchange area.

A view of the clearing of the future brief extension of Forest Road to Florida 293. This will be the only at-grade intersection along the toll extension, allowing residents of nearby subdivisions along Forest Road and College Road direct access to the future highway.

This is also the terminus of Phase 2 of the proposed route around Niceville. It is not currently slated to become an interchange, but perhaps as traffic demands increase an interchange will be proposed at this location.

Looking east at the future alignment of Florida 293 along Florida 285 about one-quarter mile north of College Road.

A diamond interchange is planned at this location and is part of Phase 3 of the limited-access highway around Niceville.

Extensive clearing has been done for the portion of Florida 293 between Florida 285 and Florida 85.

This portion of Phase 3 will see the extension further west to a trumpet interchange with Florida 85, with no other access points between the two state routes.

Clearing has also began along Florida 85 north where future Florida 293 will intersect the route.

The extension of the toll road will end here once complete, with the provision of extending it southwestward toward Fort Walton Beach and west toward Navarre as part of a proposed (and long debated) toll facility to alleviate traffic along the often clogged U.S. 98. Whether this proposed extension westward happens in the next 10 to 20 years remains to be seen. With factors such as current economic conditions looming, disagreements on a final alignment of the route, and final funding issues continue, the prospects of the toll facility reaching further west become more and more doubtful.

All above photos were taken on 04/08/2011.