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Gulf Coast Parkway

Project Evolution

The Gulf Coast Parkway is a proposed new roadway that will connect US 98 in Gulf County with US 231 in Bay County. The existing corridor is becoming increasingly congested and the roadway is insufficient for freight movement via trucks. The proposed new roadway would provide additional traffic capacity, improve access to state roads, and provide an improved freight corridor for the region. The new route will provide for more direct access to US 231 and in turn provide improved access to Interstate-10, as well as providing greater accessibility to the coastal communities in Gulf County. Currently, US 98 crosses through Tyndall Air Force Base. The proposed new facility will bypass the air force base which will allow for heightened security on the base and provide an alternate route if passage through the base is temporarily blocked or restricted. Additionally, the new route will provide an alternative hurricane evacuation route for area residents.

A Gulf Coast Parkway Feasibility Study was initiated in 2001 by Opportunity Florida, a non-profit regional economic development partnership. Opportunity Florida was created to strengthen the business environment in eight northwest Florida counties designated by Governor Bush as Rural Areas of Critical Concern in 1999. In spring 2000, the Florida legislature created and funded the Transportation Outreach Program (TOP). This program was created to: fund projects of a high priority based on prevailing principles of preserving the existing transportation infrastructure; enhance Florida's economic growth and competitiveness; and improve travel choices to ensure mobility.

Upon completion of the feasibility study, Opportunity Florida sought and received a state-funded grant in 2004 to prepare a State Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for this project. Subsequent to the initiation of the SEIR, federal funds were earmarked in order to initiate the design of certain portions of the project if a Build Alternative was recommended at the conclusion of the SEIR. In order to ensure that the project was eligible for federal funds, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was initiated in December 2006.

Opportunity Florida transferred project responsibility and the remaining contractual obligations for the Project Development & Environment (PD&E) study to the Florida Department of Transportation on June 30, 2008. This was to ensure the project was eligible for Federal funding and to maintain compliance with Federal funding requirements. As a Federally-aided State Highway project, there are requirements and procedures to be followed to preserve eligibility for Federal funding for this project. Chief among the prerequisites is that FDOT, the lead agency, be solely responsible for the administration of the project and any environmental review process intended to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 6002 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Federal law requires that FDOT, rather than Opportunity Florida, be responsible for development of any environmental or other project level process meant for Federal Aid approval.

In 2009 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approved the Corridor Alternatives Evaluation Summary Report (the report is available for review in the menu to the left). This report outlined the previously proposed 12 alternative corridors. Four of these 12 proposed alternative corridors as well as an additional alternative alignment have been determined to go forward for further analysis. These five alternative alignments were presented to the public on October 15 and 20th 2009.

The five alternatives were analyzed and compared, and the results were documented in the Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS) which was approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in February 2014. Public hearings were held on May 6th and 8th, 2014 in Gulf and Bay Counties to present the project alternatives and FDOT's recommendation for a preferred alternative. The FDOT made the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and supporting technical documents available for public inspection for a period of 30 days prior to the project's public hearings at the Bay and Gulf County libraries (and can also be found by clicking the document links in the left bar).

Following the public hearings, a 15-day comment period allowed the public, elected officials, and agencies to provide input regarding the project and any recommendations. As a part of this comment period significant coordination was continued with Bay and Gulf counties. From May of 2014 through February 2016 the two counties have worked with FDOT staff on the project's recommended alternative. In August of 2015 Gulf County submitted a resolution supporting Alternative 19 as the recommended alignment, in March of 2016 Bay County followed with a similar resolution.

Because the alignment of Alternative 19 would impact the Intramodal Distribution Center (IDC) on US 231, additional coordination was conducted with the Panama City Port Authority. The result of that coordination was the realignment of the northern segment of Alternative 19 to avoid the IDC property. The realigned Alternative 19 is identified as Modified Alternative 19, although the limits of the modification extend from just north of Tram Road to a proposed new intersection with US 231 near the existing intersection of Hudson Road with US 231. A comparative evaluation of Modified Alternative 19 with the original Alternative 19 has been summarized the Revised Recommended Alternative Report.

Following acceptance of Modified Alternative 19 as a viable alternative, the comparative analysis of Modified Alternative 19 with Alternatives 8, 14, 15, and 17 was performed and the EIS was completely revised. A supplement public hearing was held March 5, 2019 at which the revised EIS and the identification of Modified Alternative 19 as the Preferred Alternative was presented to the public. Public comments from the hearing and public comment period that followed, were incorporated into the EIS which was then coordinated with the resource agencies. On December 10, 2019, the FEIS was approved for public availability. The schedule above provides a timeline of the activities that have occurred since the project's initiation and shows the anticipated completion of the PD&E phase.