NICEVILLE, Fla. (WKRG) — The Florida Department of Transportation and the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority conducted a safety study for the toll bridge connecting Niceville to Destin.

At least once every year for the last five years, there has been at least one head-on crash resulting in serious to fatal injuries. Most recently, 5 people were injured after a head-on crash.

Verified crash statistics are as recent as 2018, according to FDOT. The study done from 2014-2018 says there were 86 total crashes with 74% of them happening in daylight hours.

Crash Type (2014-2018)# of Crashed (%)
Rear-End56 (65%)
Off-Road10 (12%)
Head-On5 (6%)
Sideswipe3 (3%)
Pedestrian1 (1%)
Rollover1 (1%)
Other10 (12%)
FDOT Safety Study, Oct. 20, 2022

FDOT safety engineer Michael Lewis said they looked at three different options to add safety measures to the existing bridge structure.

1. Add new Reflective Pavement Markers to the center lanes.

“These are little raised, reflective devices that are put right at the double yellow centerline, and there’s one on each side and they reflect back,” said Lewis. “Those yellow reflectors really light up because #1, they’re brand new and #2, there are so many of them that you can’t miss them. The added benefit of having them spaced that closely is you get a vibration when you go across them, so it gets drivers’ attention. Similar to the rumble strips we have on the side of Interstate 10.”

2. Reduce the shoulders to 6 feet to widen the centerline, giving more space between oncoming traffic.

“Any changes that we make to the dimensions on the bridge are kind of fixed within that 40-foot bridge deck. We have 12-foot travel lanes and 8-foot shoulder lanes. This is a minimum standard so you know the bridge right now meets the minimum standards for a roadway like this,” said Lewis. “We would basically narrow the shoulders. Keep the lanes at 12 feet and then put a buffer in the middle that might give you a better perception of being farther away from the opposing traffic. But then that reduced the shoulder down to six feet on each side, which isn’t really enough that if if you had a breakdown if you run out of gas or you have blown tire or whatever, you would end up blocking part of the lane by pulling over. So there’s a tradeoff on that consideration.”

3. Add plastic separation poles down the middle of the bridge

“There was a thought that we possibly put up plastic poles all the way down the middle as a visual separator,” said Lewis. “That ends up being really tricky and I would not want that to be on people’s minds for being a final consideration because one of the things that happen is that those are gonna get hit and they’re gonna get knocked down and if you’re going to maintain them, think about the narrowness of the bridge. If we go out there and try to do maintenance on those poles, we’re gonna have to shut down at least one direction of the bridge and that would be disruptive. In addition, then you’re putting workers out there to maintain the system and it would be putting a danger on our maintenance or maintenance crews.”

As well as safety improvements to the bridge, Lewis said a big safety concern on that stretch of road is the Lakeshore Dr curve South of Spence Parkway. This part of SR 293 recorded 113 crashes in the 5-year span.

“The area that probably is when we look at it is the greatest concern is there are some fatal crashes associated with the curve up by the Lakeshore Dr interchange,” said Lewis. “Especially in the southbound direction when you come over the horizon coming over Lakeshore, you’ve got that quick sharp curve and at times it’s problematic.”

FDOT has short-term and long-term recommendations for this stretch of road.

Short Term:

  1. Install oversized chevrons, curve warnings, and flashing beacons at SR 293 N Lakeshore Dr interchange. For SB traffic, install a curve warning sign with an advisory speed and a dynamic speed-feedback sign alerting drivers of their approaching speed. Ensure all signs are oversized and add LED lighting around the signs’ edges to better emphasize the signs.
  2. Install tightly-spaced RPMs on SR 293 through the horizontal curve at the N Lakeshore Dr interchange and on the centerline of SR 293 in the two-lane section from SR 85 to E of Forest Rd.
  3. Install highway lighting on SR 293 at the Lakeshore Dr interchange, linking to the lighting system currently in place for the toll plaza to the south.

Long Term:

  1. Complete a full safety study of SR 293 at the Lakeshore Dr interchange. Even with the recently installed cable guardrail system, serious crashes, including fatalities, continue. It may be that the superelevation through the horizontal curve is deficient and the road needs cross-slope correction.
  2. Implement speed calming measures on SR 293, especially near the Lakeshore Dr interchange (around the sharp horizontal curve). These speed-calming measures should be identified in a full study.
  3. Coordinate with Eglin Airforce Base to determine whether a certain type of lighting, such as Wildlife Context Sensitive Lighting, would interfere with training flights and operations. If not, conduct a lighting justification study to implement appropriate highway lighting along the corridor, but especially at the Forest Rd intersection.

Next Steps:

The FDOT study has been sent to Mid-Bay Bridge Authority. The board will address the results and safety improvement considerations during an upcoming meeting. The next one is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Once a consideration or decision is voted on, FDOT will begin the work to install or change the current bridge.

Review the FDOT Safety Study by segment here:

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