If you’ve driven past the intersection at U.S. Highway 98 and County Road 30A recently, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a good deal of construction going on. A pedestrian underpass is underway, and it’s a project that is several years in the making. Once completed, pedestrians will be able to more easily and safely cross the four-lane highway, whether they’re spending an afternoon shopping at 30Avenue and returning to their home or rental in Rosemary Beach, or kids going to and from school at the Ohana Institute. Current estimates say the project will be completed by March 2023.
A project of this magnitude requires proposals, funding, permits, and the cooperation of entities at both the local and state level.
At the heart of this particular project is Leigh Moore, executive director of Scenic Walton; a nonprofit organization that works with the local community in order to preserve Walton County’s natural beauty and enhance the quality of life here.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to help keep Walton County scenic, preorder a 30A / Scenic Walton charity license plate. 100% of the proceeds go to support Scenic Walton.]
Moore has been involved with improvement projects surrounding the intersection of Highway 98 and Scenic Highway 30A since around 2014, when she was asked to join a committee made up of residents, local business owners, nonprofit representatives, and community leaders. The group had various improvements in mind, and Moore had crucial insights to impart because of her work with Scenic Walton. Moore, John Freer (of Last Call Restaurant Group; Shades, Pescado, Shaka), and Bryan Corr (of 30Avenue) ended up leading the charge with Scenic Walton at the helm, making improvements like installing streetlights (“it was completely dark before and very unsafe,” Moore said), multi-use paths, and having landscaping done for safety and beautification.
As businesses opened up on the north side of Highway 98 (like the Donut Hole and 30Avenue), it became increasingly pertinent to make the crossing to and from 30A safer. “We worked with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on some improvements to make the intersection safer, but everyone knew that to truly make it safe we needed to separate the cyclist and pedestrian traffic from vehicular traffic,” Moore said. “It’s way too high speed of an intersection, there’s too high a volume of vehicular traffic; it’s just too dangerous.”
Various options were considered to solve this problem, including an overpass, which was ultimately discarded because of a variety of potential issues. An overpass would need to be very long and extend well past Highway 98 (creating space issues), and people questioned whether cyclists would actually use it. An underpass proved to be the more viable option. “We worked with the county, the state, the Walton County Tourist Development Council, FDOT, and our state representatives, provided a conceptual design, and got to work,” Moore said. After securing funding and all of the necessary permits, and a lengthy design process, construction on the underpass started in May 2020.
Once the underpass is complete, it will be followed by a landscaping project around the intersection and the underpass, plus a public art project in partnership with the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County. “It will include murals on the walls of the underpass and sculptures at each entrance,” Moore said. These complementary finishing touches illustrate what Scenic Walton is all about.
“The two main focuses of Scenic Walton are safety and beautification,” Moore said.
“When we’re doing safety projects we always want them to be as beautiful as possible.” Another example of safety-enhancing beautification projects includes median landscaping, which tends to slow traffic.
LEFT: Members at the groundbreaking of the 30A Oyster Lake landscaping project. From L to T: Christy Burke, Green Thumb Garden Club member and Scenic Walton board member, Bobby Wagner, Trees on the Coast Executive Director, Lori Echols, Green Thumb Garden Club President, Leigh Moore, Scenic Walton Executive Director, Roger Hall, Scenic Walton President. RIGHT: Leigh Moore
Other active initiatives Scenic Walton is working on include undergrounding overhead utilities (so that you see more trees and fewer poles and wires), a gateway landscaping project from the Bay County line to Watersound Parkway (which FDOT has recently approved funding for), a landscaping project on US-331 from the Florida-Alabama line to the southern boundary of the city of Paxton, and right-of-way improvement projects on Scenic Highway 30A at Oyster Lake and east of Camp Creek Lake. “We will continue to work with the county, the cities in Walton County, and FDOT to identify and find ways to make other projects happen,” Moore said.
In speaking with Moore, it’s clear that she loves what she does and is passionate about Scenic Walton’s mission.
“I love that my work leads to improvement and enhancements in the county,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to have the effort I put into my job result in improvements that I and everyone else can see, feel, and benefit from.”
The underpass is Scenic Walton’s biggest project to date, but they’re not stopping anytime soon. For now, Moore is the only full-time staffer at Scenic Walton, but she hopes for the team to grow. “We have big plans for the future, and it’s going to take more than just me to do it.”
To help support Scenic Walton and its efforts, you can sign up for their e-newsletter via their website or make a donation using the Donate button at the top-right of the page. Moore explained that the newsletter keeps people informed of what’s going on with the organization, the county, and municipalities. She considers any donations made to Scenic Walton as investments in the local community. You can also preorder a 30A specialty license plate, all of the proceeds of which will go to Scenic Walton.