Known as the Lillian Highway as it crosses the Perdido River from Baldwin County and Lillian, Alabama, U.S. 98 carries two lanes through to Florida 173 (Blue Angel Parkway). A variety of wetlands, tree stands, mobile home parks, fast food restaurants and strip malls line the route through to the Navy Aerospace Regional Medical Center and Navy Mall. Four-laning of the road between Florida 173 and Navy Boulevard (Florida 295) was completed by 2002.
A short overlap with SR 295 (Navy Boulevard) takes U.S. 98 north outside Warrington, and north of Pensacola Naval Air Station. U.S. 98 continues Navy Boulevard eastward from State Road 295 to Pace Boulevard in Pensacola, where it splits with U.S. 98 Business (Garden Street). Garden Street ventures eastward through Downtown while U.S. 98 bypasses the central business district via Pace Boulevard (SR 292) north, Cervantes Street (U.S. 90) east, and Ninth Avenue (SR 289) south.
U.S. 98 resumes an eastward course from Ninth Avenue by the Pensacola Bayfront Center, utilizing a one-way street couplet of Gregory Street (west) and Chase Street (east). The pair converge at Bayfront Park and the Pensacola Bay Bridge, a three-mile span built in 1960 between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
With just four lanes, the drive to Gulf Breeze over Pensacola Bay is often congested. Drivers must slow from 45 to 35 mph upon entering Gulf Breeze, though a lane is gained in each direction through to State Road 399. Three traffic lights slow travel, including a photo-enforced signal (reactivated in March 2011) at Shoreline Drive.
East of Gulf Breeze, U.S. 98 bisects the Naval Live Oaks Unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore, the only undeveloped stretch of highway through to Okaloosa Island. Speed limits vary between 45 and 55 mph and frontage consists of subdivision entrances, strip malls, fast food eateries, and RV parks.
Origins of U.S. 98 in Florida date back to 1926 with the formation of the Gulf Coast Highway Association. The group touted a direct route along the Gulf Coast, following the coastline from Pensacola to Panama City, and across St. Andrews Bay at either Redfish Point or Long Point. The route of U.S. 98 was completed through Panama City in 1929, and overall along the Panhandle coast, with the completion of the Phillips Inlet Bridge, in 1935. Signing of the route took place in 1934. Some 1930s maps showed a temporary U.S. 98 alignment utilizing present-day Florida 87 from Navarre northward to Milton.
U.S. 98 ended in Pensacola until 1955. During that time, the route was relocated from the end point at 17th Avenue and Cervantes Street (U.S. 90) west along Garden Street to Navy Boulevard and Lillian Highway to Alabama and ultimately Natchez, Mississippi.
Hurricane Ivan destroyed the “world’s longest fishing pier” along side the Pensacola Bay Bridge in September 2004 by knocking over several of the span segments. The piers were sections retained from the original U.S. 98 toll bridge.
The northern pier was replaced by a newer, albeit much shorter, structure in 2009. The southern pier was finally dismantled in 2011 without a replacement.
New Pensacola Bay Bridge
Costing $398.5 million, construction underway through mid-2021 builds a pair of six-lane bridges across Pensacola Bay. The new spans will be both higher and wider than their predecessors. The first span opened with two-way traffic in September 2019. The second span opens by 2021, with the addition of a 10 foot wide multi-use path. Both bridges will accommodate 12 foot travel lanes with 10 foot shoulders.