Santa Rosa County, Florida’s much anticipated new Pea Ridge Connector officially opened in May 2023. The two-mile-long project runs through the central part of the county, providing north-south connectivity between Hwy 90 and Hamilton Bridge Road. This new four-lane, divided highway is the largest road infrastructure project undertaken by Santa Rosa County in over 30 years.
Volkert was proud to be selected as the prime designer on this project, and the firm was responsible for the development of planning for the entire $11.2-million effort. Volkert also provided post-design/construction oversight and construction engineering and inspection (CEI) services, and the firm’s environmental team was charged with implementing safe, ecologically responsible, temporary relocation of the area’s endangered Gopher tortoise during construction.
Prior to the construction of the new connector, Santa Rosa County residents and area visitors were forced to travel longer, higher traffic routes to access the area’s ever-increasing amenities, such as schools and shopping, as well as when traveling between areas within the local community. Addressing the logistical issues created by this situation has long been a goal of the County.
In fact, the Pea Ridge Connector project was first identified by the County as a potential improvement nearly 30 years ago when it was included in the Florida-Alabama 2024 Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), and the project has been consistently included in subsequent LRTP updates. The need for this project was established through an evaluation of planned future land use and anticipated traffic demand along the project’s corridor.
“The Pea Ridge Connection will be instrumental in alleviating traffic congestion on Highway 90,” says Rebecca Jones, P.E., Engineering Director for Santa Rosa County. “Also, with the multi-modal approach and the first true roundabout, the Pea Ridge connection is one of a kind in the County.”
Although the County originally planned this project as a two-lane roadway, after review of Volkert’s two-lane and four-lane design options and the related cost estimates, the County opted to implement the four-lane option recommended by Volkert. Santa Rosa County’s decision to move forward with constructing the four-lane option was based on a careful assessment of the available traffic studies, Volkert’s professional recommendations, and the available budget. The selected option was determined to be a more efficient long-term solution, given the relatively modest cost differential between the options and the anticipated need for future expansion with the utilization of the two-lane option. As ultimately constructed, the four-lane Pea Ridge Connector includes a roundabout, turn lanes to accommodate current and future development needs, and signalized intersections at Highway 90 and Hamilton Bridge Road.
The Pea Ridge Connector project is an excellent example of locally sourced funding applied for the direct benefit of a local community, the effort having been fully funded through Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) dollars. The LOST tax facilitates the use of local funds to promote the completion of valuable local projects, which could include a wide range of items such as local road improvements or revitalization of a community’s downtown area. This creative funding option provided a workable avenue for the County to complete this important project, and vital community support included the donation of right-of-way parcels by local residents.
It is easy to see why residents were willing to support this long-awaited project. The Connector, which includes a new signalized southbound approach at the existing intersection between US Highway 90 and Santa Villa Drive, provides much-needed traffic relief to the surrounding north-south connecting roads. Volkert also designed the new roadway with bike lanes and sidewalks to improve accessibility to pedestrian and cyclist traffic. In addition, the new Connector will help the district maintain more structured bus routes, provide improved access to a school district-owned property that may be utilized for a future school site, and facilitate improved response times by the community’s first responders.
“In fact, during construction, firefighters were able to drive through the Pea Ridge Connector construction site to respond to a local house fire, which allowed responders to reach the house ten minutes earlier than if they had taken the previously existing route,” says Volkert project manager, Billy Woodbery, PE.
Clearly, the new Pea Ridge Connector was proving its value to the community even before the May 2023 official opening, providing a more efficient avenue for emergency services to respond to urgent conditions in Santa Rosa County.
Completing the Pea Ridge Connector project was undeniably a team effort from start to finish. As noted, local LOST funds were vital to the project, and most of the required right-of-way (ROW) land was donated by local property owners, providing a tremendous cost-saving to the County, which helped realize the goal of completing the more cost-efficient, four-lane project design. The Volkert Team did its share to meet the challenges presented by the project as well, working with the County to creatively engineer solutions to make the donated right-of-way widths work for the client.
“The established right-of-way was 80 feet when traditionally four-lane highways are approximately 100 to 120 feet in width,” comments PM Woodbery. “This variance required some creative engineering on the part of the designers to fit the needs of the client within the available right-of-way.”
A project nearly three decades in the making, the Pea Ridge Connector is the culmination of years of dedication and persistence by Santa Rosa County Commissioners and staff, local proponents, and Volkert’s committed design team. The project is a vital component of Santa Rosa County’s long-term goal of improving overall connectivity between Hwy 90 and Willard Norris Road, and discussions are ongoing regarding the potential implementation of three more legs of the project in the future.
Volkert is grateful to have been a part of this significant local project, and we look forward to watching Santa Rosa County and its residents and visitors benefit from the project’s positive impacts on the community for many years to come.