Escambia County adjusts Pensacola Beach traffic system after June record

After a record month of June on Pensacola Beach, Escambia County showcases recent tweaks to its traffic control system ahead of what is typically a busy holiday weekend.

Last month, the Pensacola Beach toll booth experienced what is arguably its busiest day on June 20 with 21,970 cars and its busiest weekend with more than 63,500 cars from June 12-15. With that in mind and ahead of the July 4 weekend, Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender and traffic engineer Jim Hagon gave a media tour of the county’s traffic control system on Friday.

We do not know to what extent the stormy weather and concerns about the increase in COVID-19 cases may affect traffic over the holiday weekend, but Bender, who represents the beach, said county staff would still monitor the traffic light on Pensacola Beach.

“I know (tourism officials) had hoped and planned for a really big July 4th this year before COVID, and of course the weather plays a role in that,” Bender said, adding that traffic had already fallen by 10% last weekend. . “I think with COVID, the weather, we don’t know what to expect but they will be available no matter what.”

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The $ 20,000 traffic camera installed above the intersection of Via de Luna Drive and Fort Pickens Road in 2018 can use artificial intelligence to adjust the signal to the flow of traffic, but it does not store any footage. Hagon started working weekends last summer to adjust camera responses and improve throughput after a particularly poor safeguard at the tollgate on June 15, 2019.

“The commissioner and I call it Armageddon Day,” Hagon said, adding that he uses LTE cellphone-like technology that collects signals from tire pressure gauges in cars to measure travel time.

Vehicles line up at the Pensacola Beach toll booth on Tuesday March 17, 2020.

That day, the toll saw more than 19,000 cars. From noon to 8 p.m., cars traveled 50 minutes of travel time from Fairpoint Drive to Gulf Breeze to the beach tollgate. In addition to Hagon’s fire watch, this spring’s toll has gone cashless so drivers won’t stop.

“Jim (Hagon) was here and slowly over the next few weeks he was increasing the time for people to come to the beach, and I think at one point we were at 100 and 120 seconds and he went. worked its way up to I think 160 seconds (green light), ”Bender said. “That’s what having someone here to watch it really allowed us to do.”

Escambia County Traffic Engineer Jim Hagon and Commissioner Robert Bender spoke on Thursday about traffic from the county command center off Fairfield Drive.

The busy month of June comes just before the Santa Rosa Island Authority considers considering a traffic easement that would allow a access road near the Grand Marlin and Quietwater to be built.

The commissioner also hopes to build a right turn for traffic towards Fort Pickens, while a roundabout plan for the main beach intersection is pending at the moment.

Two weeks ago, the county got access to the South Harbor Condominium Camera, which overlooks Casino Beach. Bender said county staff would use it both to monitor traffic exiting the beach parking lot and possibly give the public access to the camera so they can also monitor traffic.

“We’re looking for ways to get out of the parking lot better, but of course it’s also a ‘Who’s from Fort Pickens that lets people out? “” said Bender.

One effort Hagon has made to improve the beach parking lot is that at certain times of the afternoon Fort Pickens Road gets a 160 second green light instead of its normal 120 seconds.

“We had found on Sunday looking through this (new) camera, there weren’t a lot of nice people to let people in, so I increased the time manually,” Hagon said. “I can do 160, and then it dumps it all out and helps the parking lot empty. And once you do that for a few cycles, you can go back to your normal 120 plan.”

Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.

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