The fifth phase of a Bay County public works project is expected to make travel along Thomas Drive safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
At their last meeting, county commissioners approved a Local Agency Program (LAP) agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation. The agreement set in motion the transfer of $1.6 million from the FDOT to the county, which will manage the project. No local funds will be used.
In 2007, the Bay County Transportation Planning Organization established a fund for the implementation of bicycle and pedestrian projects and ranked Thomas Drive at the top of the priority list.
"For years we had folks walking along the vegetation on the side of the roadway," Keith Bryant, the county's Traffic Engineering Manager, said. "They didn't have a safe place to walk [and] you could see a path that was along the roadway, so we knew we had a tremendous need."
Phase 5 will target Thomas Drive from Laird Street to North Lagoon Drive – a distance of about two miles – and include sidewalks on both sides of the roadway and curbs and gutters in some areas. Several sections of Thomas Drive were included in previous phases and the new project will fill in the gaps, Bryant said.
Two connector roads will also get sidewalks: Patronis Drive from Thomas to the elementary school, and Daniel Street, which will give disabled residents of a nearby housing development safer access to public transportation stops.
"I think it's a wonderful idea and I think it's a necessity," Catherine Jacobs, who lives in Gibb Gulf Coast Village, said. Jacobs said she sometimes walks to the grocery store and has a hard time navigating the shoulder of the road. "It's dangerous because of the cars going by," Jacobs said.
Bryant said construction will begin shortly after the start of the new year and will take about six months to complete.