The beginning of construction of a new underpass beneath U.S. Hwy. 98 was announced at a recent groundbreaking ceremony held in March. With expected completion in late 2022, the new underpass will provide a safe pedestrian and cyclist crossing through a lighted tunnel at the busy and still growing area between Inlet Beach and Rosemary Beach. It will also provide easier access to the area’s popular shopping and dining outlets including 30Avenue, The Donut Hole and Shade’s Bar & Grill at the intersection of U.S. Hwy. 98 and County Rd. 30A. This $5.6 million project will be the first pedestrian and cyclist underpass to be constructed in the county and will measure 12 ft wide x 8 ft high x 136 ft long.
To complement the construction of the underpass and for extra safety, safe-way lighting will be installed as well as lighted access points at the northeast and southeast corners of the intersection, ADA compliant stairs and ramps, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks and sidewalks, drainage upgrades and a new eastbound right turn lane from U.S. Hwy. 98 to County Rd. 30A going southbound. The Florida Department of Transportation will also install landscaping in the area of the underpass once construction is complete.
According to the FDOT, the first construction activities include installing signage, erosion control and clearing areas for pipe installation. Crews have already removed streetlights at the intersection.
The Scenic Walton organization has been integral during the last several years to coordinate the effort to make this important safety improvement happen, working with several state and county partners integral to the effort including the Florida Department of transportation (FDOT), Visit South Walton, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners and local restaurants Shades Bar & Grill and The Donut Hole.
Scenic Walton is also partnering with the Cultural Arts Association to create a public arts component so that the Inlet Beach Underpass is as unique and special as the National Scenic Byway it connects to. The public art component will be part of the CAA’s Art in Public Spaces program and feature original artwork, including murals and permanent sculptures installed at each of the underpass entrances.
The public art component will include two mid-sized sculptures installed next to each tunnel entrance and murals created on the tunnel’s interior walls. Lighting will be stylistically installed on the ceiling and the floor will remain unobstructed for clear and safe passage.
A national RFQ is being announced this month and finalists will be chosen in July with commissions selected in August. Concepts will be reviewed and chosen by a panel of representatives from the creative, public and private sectors, and the community at large. Two artists/teams will create and install the sculptures, and one artist/team will create the interior murals with collaboration by local students through the CAA’s ongoing partnership with the Walton County School District.
The overall project outcome will be a safe, practical and necessary crossing that also provides enhancement to the surrounding area through indigenous landscaping and beautiful, engaging and thought-provoking artwork. Artistically and conceptually, and in recognition of this underpass being the first in the area, the theme of the art installations will be “connectivity” and “relationship” among and between humans and connection with our built environment through creativity and will be installed in Spring 2022.
The underpass will be an obvious thoroughfare, but will also add value to the practical environment and become an experience for those who live, work and vacation in our community. For more information about the public art project, email Jennifer@culturalartsalliance.com. For more information on the U.S. Hwy. 98 underpass, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To stay informed on construction, the FDOT has created a Facebook page named “My U.S. 98 Underpass at Inlet Beach” where ongoing information about impacts to traffic and construction updates will be posted.