To ease congestion, officials propose new roundabouts, expanding pedestrian access, adding double-decker buses, and building a new parking garage.
As Pensacola Beach residents and visitors grow frustrated with traffic gridlock that has grown with 70 years of continuous development, new options to ease traffic congestion could soon come to fruition.
Last week, Escambia County planners and consultants unveiled several proposals during a public input kickoff meeting on the barrier island.
New roundabouts to replace traffic light
The most notable proposals include new roundabouts as a way to reduce accidents and smooth traffic flow along the main traffic corridor of Via de Luna Drive on Pensacola Beach. As Pensacola Beach is forecasted to continued record economic growth, so is the growth in traffic that comes onto the barrier island.
Volkert, Inc. and EPR-Florida have been tasked by the county to develop the proposals and work with the public and beach stakeholders throughout the planning process.
All the proposals add two roundabouts to Via de Luna Drive, eliminating the sole traffic light on Pensacola Beach. One roundabout would replace the stoplight at Fort Pickens Road, while one would be at the east entrance of the Casino Beach parking lot.
Three variations of the roundabouts were presented to the public. Each option provides alternatives for pedestrian access from the bayside of Pensacola Beach to the gulf front.
The first alternative provides for at-grade pedestrian crosswalks within the traffic circles, another involves constructing a pedestrian tunnel below Via de Luna Drive, while the third option calls for an elevated pedestrian overpass over both Via de Luna Drive and Fort Pickens Road.
In offering the roundabout options, traffic engineers cite data showing that roundabouts result in a 35 percent reduction of all intersection crashes and a 76 percent reduction in serious injury and fatal crashes.
They also said the traffic circles are safer for pedestrians and reduce rush-hour delays.
As part of the ongoing planning process, county consultants will read and review public comments. Early next year, the final proposals will be presented to the county and the SRIA, with the discussion of funding and construction to follow.
Municipal parking garage proposed
Amongst the ideas to reduce congestion, the roundabouts are only a piece of the larger proposed transportation picture.
Consultants also have proposed options to increase parking availability, including constructing a new municipal parking garage and adding surface parking. Officials cite the lack of a public multi-story garage as a key barrier towards attracting more visitors to Pensacola Beach.
Volkert presented the public with a conceptual eight-story parking garage that could accommodate up to 92 spaces per parking deck. The garage could be built at the current site of the SRIA’s headquarters and be built as a mixed-use facility similar to other developments across the region. Consultants estimated the cost of such a facility to be $1.4 million per parking deck, or more than $11 million for an eight-story structure.
Double-decker buses could replace new trolley buses
In addition to finding solutions to parking and traffic management, efforts to expand public transportation options on the beach are being proposed.
Robert Rinke, the developer of the more than $600 million Portofino Island Resort, is lobbying the Santa Rosa Island Authority and Escambia County to set aside nearly $800,000 to purchase double-decker buses to service Pensacola Beach.
Rinke is proposing that the SRIA purchase the new buses with funds from the Portofino Island Improvement Fund. The fund provides an annual pot of money collected from the Portofino development’s lease fees, which total about $250,000 annually.
The fund is utilized for enhancements and projects on Pensacola Beach, such as the SRIA’s purchase last year of three open-air buses at a cost of more than $200,000 each. The buses are operated by Escambia County Area Transit and were to be used exclusively on Pensacola Beach.
Now, however, the open-air buses are being tasked with a new route in downtown Pensacola, at least through the end of the year. A public-private partnership formed last month between Escambia County, ECAT, the SRIA, and local developer Quint Studer will test a new pilot program for new public transit routes downtown beginning this week.
As part of the pilot program, the interlocal agreement between the SRIA and ECAT had to be amended to allow the buses purchased with SRIA funds to be used downtown. Officials said once the pilot program is completed, the feasibility of continuing the service will be analyzed.
See conceptual renderings of the roundabout plans and parking garage: