Destin businesses adapt to U.S. 98 construction

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The Florida Department of Transportation is widening about 3.8 miles of U.S. 98 from Airport Road east to near the Walton County line.

By Maddie Rowley | 315-4353 | @maddiedestinlog |

DESTIN — Dust flies in the wind as a motorist takes an abrupt right turn into the makeshift entrance of The Track Destin.

Neon orange traffic barrels curve inward to usher patrons into the parking lot off U.S. Highway 98. It’s 3:30 p.m. on a Monday, and cars already are crawling west toward the Marler Bridge.

The Track is crowded. Go carts whiz around the racetrack, families putt-putt from one hole to the next and the arcade buzzes with children.

Despite the busyness, Vice President of Marketing Meg Norwood said the construction on U.S. 98 has made it harder for people to find the entrance.

“The most difficult thing is for people to know where to actually make the turn into the park,” Norwood said. “We’re trying to get people to use the Airport Road entrance. Customer safety is really the most important aspect.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is widening about 3.8 miles of U.S. 98 from Airport Road east to near the Walton County line. The $33.3 million job began last year and is expected to be finished in the winter of 2020. 

According to Ian Satter, the DOT’s district spokesman, the project is entering Phase II.

“Construction crews for the U.S. 98 widening project in Okaloosa County are making preparations for the Phase II traffic shift in the spring,” Satter said in an email. “The westbound travel lanes between Matthew Boulevard and the western boundary of Henderson Beach State Park will be shifted to the south to allow construction of the new westbound roadway.”

Satter also said there will be no new lane closures until after March 25 because of spring break traffic.

“You’ll still see people working on the sides of the roads, but there won’t be any new lane closures. The lanes that are currently closed will stay closed,” Satter said.

East of The Track and just past the entrance to Henderson State Park, the lane shift also has affected popular tourist spot Fudpucker’s.

“The construction makes it harder to get in and out of the parking lot,” co-owner Tim Edwards said. “We’re not excited about the changes to come with the lane shift, but construction crews say that it’s going to be really nice when it’s all done.”

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