Traffic Overload: Infrastructure on Panama City Beach – Pt 1

by March 22, 2010 • 25 comments


If you have been anywhere on the beach during this years Spring Break, you’ve noticed no doubt that traffic has been unusually bad this year. Sure, Front Beach Road is a given, avoid that traffic-trap at all costs. Traffic on FBR was so astonishingly bad, that Saturday night officials from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office had to close Front Beach Road from 6p.m. until at least 10p.m. But, even Panama City Beach Parkway, known for providing a speedy getaway for residents looking to circumvent the knots of cars, was slammed with bumper to bumper traffic. In fact, the traffic was so bad on the afternoon of the Car Show at Frank Brown Park that Eastbound traffic was backed up will beyond highway 79, leaving a trail of stories of residents taking 388 into town. One could argue that this whole traffic matter was simply a Spring Break phenomenon, but with the new airport coming online, some predict this is only the start of a growing problem. So what’s the deal?

I talked to Paul Casto, the Public Works director on Panama City Beach and he had an interesting take on the whole mess. “Its a three part issue,” He said. “Number one, I believe we simply have more people. More residents and an increase in the number of vacationers. Second, there have been three additional lights added; one at Allison, one at Nautilus and one at Pier Park. That naturally will slow the traffic. But the biggest change, I think, is that East of the Hathaway Bridge a light synchronization system was put into place.”

Before, traffic would bottleneck around the bridge due to the way the lights worked: lots of people, lots of random lights and, voila, traffic buildup. But East of the bridge implemented a traffic light synchronization system. This expensive system works to improve mobility on congested local highways and streets by keeping the signals synchronized, placing vehicle detectors in the pavement to detect the presence of vehicles, coordinating the timing of the signals between successive intersections, and automatically adjusting the traffic signals to facilitate the movement of vehicles through the intersections. Basically, now near and East of the bridge traffic flows a lot better subsequently dumping more traffic, more quickly onto the beach where there is no synchronization in the traffic light system. So the bottleneck that used to exist, didn’t disappear, it simply has been transferred to the other spots like Front Beach Road and Richard Jackson Boulevard.

Very soon, two more street lights are set to be in place at Moylan and another at Clara Avenue. These two streetlights, with growing development throughout Panama City Beach could make traffic intolerably bad.

Mr. Casto went on to say, “It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it. ” The question is, what can be done to nip this burgeoning problem in the bud?

Mr. Casto provided a simple answer in part 2 of our series. Stay tuned….

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1 Allan March 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I think there used to be a website (I will have to see if I can find it) but what happened to the overfly project? Wasnt there supposed to be another overpass that takes people onto Thomas Drive? Did it get postponed?

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2 Allan March 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm
3 Jason Koertge March 23, 2010 at 9:59 am

The fly-over project is still a go, as far as I know, but I don’t think there was funding last time I checked.

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4 b March 23, 2010 at 7:53 am

I was unfortunately caught in the midst of this fiasco. The one glaring omission at Middle/Front Beach Roads and Thomas Drive intersection? Police!!! There wasn’t a single one in sight! None!I That was at 9am. On my return trip at 3pm, I sat on Allison (hello Sidney!) for almost an hour while people were out of their cars, walking in the middle of Front Beach, blocking intersections and still no police in sight. And they didn’t close Front Beach until 6pm? It over an hour to make my normal 9 minute trip. Where were all the extra police we paid for?

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5 Mike March 23, 2010 at 8:06 am

Is it really necessary to break this story into two parts?

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6 Jason Koertge March 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

Yes. 😉

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7 Robert Pirrung March 23, 2010 at 8:24 am

Welcome to progress–Bay County’s first escalator!!

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8 Herb Schulstadt March 23, 2010 at 9:31 am

There are escalators at Emerald Beach Resort!

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9 Cara Dee March 23, 2010 at 8:33 am

The majority of the problem is, as always, with the Spring Break/MTV/BET crowd. Absolutely too many *bad* drivers, drunk drivers and just plain incosiderate pedestrians out there. Without all the other factors, the overstuffing of spring breakers this year is the worst I’ve ever seen, as are the lack of morals, decency or manners.

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10 Susan March 23, 2010 at 4:27 pm

You are right, I am so tired of half naked foul mouthed young people coming to our family beach. I know they bring $ to the economy, but it is not fair that we locals are having to expose our children to these people, if you can call them that! No wonder our country is going to h*** in a hand basket. This is the future generation?

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11 Observing from Georgia March 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

PCB seems so hungry for the revenue that “morals, decency or manners” are overlooked. Daytona kicked them out–PCB should, too.

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12 captgeobob March 23, 2010 at 8:47 am

PCB has become a “trash town”, where residents get shot, beaten nearly too death just outside their condo’s, robbed, etc. The new airport will be great for the criminals to get out of town fast. If I was a resident I would be wanting to get out of town fast and permanently.

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13 Susan March 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

You are right. I thought we got rid of MTV, now we have BETV, give me a break! We are pimping out our beautiful beach community. I am so ashamed to tell people we are from PCB sometimes. We are tax paying citizens, something has got to be done.

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14 Jason Koertge March 23, 2010 at 10:01 am

it seems to me that there are far more people here during spring break than last year. I find this very ironic since there was no “public” money put into marketing spring break.

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15 Bill March 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

I agree with b…the Front Beach Rd, Middle Beach Rd and So Thomas Dr intersections were GRIDLOCK….

However it wasn’t just limited to Saturday evening. I live in the Long Beach Resort and was returning home on Friday at approx 10pm and the traffic was a nightmare. It took 45 minutes to travel less than 1/2 mile on FBR…One car per green light was the norm on FBR at MBR…a couple of green lights no cars were able to move because the intersection was blocked with cars turning left from Thomas Dr and right from MBR onto FBR…. FBR narrows from 4 lanes to 2 lanes at that point (read funnel) …plus so many cars from both west and east on FBR were trying to turn onto So Thomas Dr (presumably going to Laketown Wharf and Shores of Panama, Pineapple Willy’s) that they backed up the traffic east of the MBR intersection. Once I cleared the Circle K station at So. Thomas Dr, the westbound traffic lightened up somewhat…Thursday a friend came over at approx 5pm and it was the same story…This is first year that the 700 units at Laketown Wharf have had any appreciable occupancy. I suspect this logjam is not going to go away after spring break, but rather is a preview of the consequences of adding over 1000 condos to this intersection without adding any additional lanes.

I believe CRA needs to revisit the plan and look at a way to modify it to add at least one additional lane on FBR to the Circle K intersection and from the Circle K to the curve at Laketown Wharf where it is already being widened to 4 lanes. While the CRA will certainly beautify FBR and So Thomas Rd, these built-in traffic funnels will remain.

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16 Nancy Viejo March 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

When people come in through the airport they may not have cars, or may not know they need them to get anywhere but will soon learn they do. Baytown Trolly can’t get anywhere fast either. While we are still a drive to destination especially for the college crowd, traffic won’t change. I agree that in the past few years the flow of traffic has gotten worse from all the traffic lights and Pier Park. All in all, I would rather deal with traffic and have money pouring into Panama City Beach then going elsewhere so our businesses can stay open and our citizens can have year round employment. Its scary financially when there is no traffic on the road either.

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17 Richard March 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I ran into this traffic on both Friday and Saturday night. There were a lot of kids cruising, at a snails pace, on the major roads. The traffic was as bad as I have ever seen it, but I do not think the problem is the kids. By the way, almost all of them were being silly, but none of them that I saw were being rude or rowdy. They were just having a good time. Yes, I know there were exceptions.

The problem was caused by no police directing traffic, people walking in the roadway, and a couple of very poorly designed intersections. The Joan, Front Beach, Thomas Drive area is especially bad.

It was interesting to see that Thomas Dr. on the Navy Base side had no poblems at all. Maybe we should entice the Spring Breakers to spread out more. There are some very nice restaurants and stores popping up along that stretch.

Another thing we could do is beef up the public transportation during spring break. How about selling week long passes and running our existing buses every 20 minutes along Front Beach? We could make some money, reduce the number of cars, and make life better for the rest of us. What do you think?

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18 James D. March 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

NO. NO. NO.
Keep those untamed and disrespectful kids away from the “family section” of Thomas Drive (Magnolia Beach Rd. to Joan Ave.)

Let the other part of the beach (within the actual city limits of PCB) deal with the debauchery, destruction of property and horrendous traffic!!

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19 Bob March 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I too, was caught in the traffic during the car show and it took a very long time to get anywhere. If we think PCB has it bad, I saw a news segment that Daytona Beach is dealing with the increase in rapes, and has had 6 rapes this week alone. Last year they had 40+ over the spring break. I agree that there needs to be middle ground between having fun and being stupid. It seems that over the last 4 years this topic is on the top of everyones list. We as homeowners, and business owners can change all of this by not catering to the spring break crowd, but we need to be prepared to find the profits somewhere else. I haven’t heard anything from the hotels, stores, bars, and alike that they are having any problems dealing with all this extra traffic or crowds.

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20 Bob March 24, 2010 at 6:54 am

As a homeowner in PCB, who travels along the Gulf Coast on a regular basis, I have seen a decline in PCB in recent years. I used to be optimistic in the future of PCB, but the backwards thinking of PCB officials and community leaders, the lack of a cohesive comprehensive plan that is enforced to clean up the beach area, and offset the damage done by the declining real estate market has sealed the fate of PCB for years to come. The airport will have absolutely no impact to overcome the current challenges when the community itself fails to be a desirable and marketable commodity and continues to spiral downward. The spring breaker crowd this year has increased in count, yet anyone who walked the beach can attest that the kids were not here for fun in the sun, rather late night partying and drunken brawls in the street. Something must be done immediately to overcome the decline in this town or the implications will be irreversible. The other coastal towns do not have our issues, and have not been impacted as severely as PCB. We need to get our heads out of the sand and do something quickly for an overall urban renewal as PCB will become the dumping ground of the coast and the few tourists with cash the airport may bring will all head west.

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21 Jeremy March 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

We shouldn’t allow BET back in town. I don’t think MTV was the problem that BET was. If the TDC can deny MTV, they need to have the backbone to tell BET that we dont want them here either.

I’m all for the college springbreakers. And I think they’re harmless for the most part. But, I don’t agree with the BET crowd. When they were in Daytona, they did the same thing. It’s like their objective is to destroy the town and leave their mark.

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22 Ron March 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm

The answer is actually pretty simple although quite expensive. I’m talking about traffic and staying on topic. Put frontage roads in from 79 to Thomas Drive. Put flyovers at all the “problem” intersections. Four way stops/traffic lights at the intersections. Through traffic stays on the Parkway, local traffic on frontage roads and side streets.

The reason there’s a problem in the first place is traffic lights. When a light turns green, you have those that “speed” away. Those that go the speed limit. And then that most hated group, the ones that drive 35 – 45 mph, often times in the left lane blocking traffic. As a result, traffic never really moves along timely. The more lights the more the problem is exacerbated.

And then, we add the sensors. These allow one car on a side street to bring a smoothly flowing 20,30 or more auto traffic flow to a halt, so that one car can cross and then we have to get all those cars moving again. I didn’t even mention the waste of fuel from idling, caused by one car.

I talked with a traffic engineer from Atlanta and they’re looking at doing right turn only intersections with “U” turn lanes to help the flow at some problem intersections. This is also something that could be done due to the wide spacing of the opposing lanes on Back Beach.

The traffic lights accomplished their goal, that is if their goal was to make a parking lot instead of an expressway.

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23 Mike March 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

Back in the day when me and my friends visited PCB –and we did for something like 12 years straight– we had a great time, but were respectful of property and people. We were raised to know how to act in public and how to treat others. It’s a shame that the PCB I once knew and loved is basically gone (although Bikini Beach and The Chateau thankfully live on) –nothing but ugly hig-rise condos and apparently riff-raff for visitors.

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24 brittany February 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

If you are all so fed up with the tourist, MOVE. I live in one of the biggest tourist towns in Florida and I deal. You knew Panama City was spring break central. It’s not like this just started happening in the last five years!

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