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The Pensacola side of a new bay bridge could feature a roundabout and flyover, with a regional transportation board voting Wednesday to move the intersection to the top of its priorities list.

The move would dramatically reconfigure the intersection of 17th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway near the bridge’s northern landing. Under the proposal, the existing three-way junction would be replaced by a single-lane roundabout. Northbound bridge traffic into Pensacola would bypass the intersection altogether via a flyover, with an offramp providing access to the roundabout and 17th Avenue. The proposed reconfiguration would improve safety, multi-modal access, and traffic flow, officials said.

The Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, or TPO — made up of city and county officials from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in Florida and Baldwin County, Ala. — voted 10-2 on Wednesday to make the intersection the body’s top priority. The TPO’s technical coordinating committee had earlier voted to move the intersection from #30 to #13 on the group’s priorities list, with a citizens’ advisory committee recommending moving it to the top of the list.

“This is a big win,” said Alan Gray, president of Pensacola-based First City Development and a founding member of Vision Pensacola, a volunteer group which has lobbied for the revised landing. Gray says he’s volunteered hundreds of hours toward the project over the past year and a half, as has cofounder Steve Dana, vice president of landscape architecture firm Jerry Pate Design.

The Pensacola-side landing of the new bay bridge could be dramatically reconfigured. (FDOT/Special to The Pulse)

The Pensacola-side landing of the new bay bridge could be dramatically reconfigured. (FDOT/Special to The Pulse)

Despite the intersection’s location at the foot of the bridge, the two projects aren’t tied together. Officials from the Florida Department of Transportation estimated Wednesday that the proposed intersection configuration would cost about $20 million, and that money won’t come from the $500 million earmarked for construction of the new Bay Bridge, set to begin next year.  FDOT officials awarded a design-build contract for the bridge project to Skanska USA in July.

Gray cited a “spirit of compromise” between Escambia and Santa Rosa officials for making Wednesday’s vote happen. Escambia commissioner and TPO chair Grover Robinson encouraged Santa Rosa members to support to reprioritization, pointing to Escambia’s past support for reprioritizing the widening of Avalon Boulevard in Santa Rosa.

In the end, Escambia commissioner Steven Barry proposed a compromise which most of the TPO’s Santa Rosa members could live with: the intersection will be moved to the top of the priority list for one year. If funding can’t be secured in that timeframe, it would move back down the list. Pensacola city council president Charles Bare and Santa Rosa commissioner Lane Lynchard cast the sole votes against Barry’s motion.

Vision Pensacola has also argued for an “iconic” entryway sculpture, which isn’t included within FDOT’s existing plans. Gray said Wednesday that the group would still seek to fund that part of the project from other sources.

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