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Traffic for Blue Angels practices causes headaches for Gulf Beach Highway residents

Homeowners along Gulf Beach Highway say the county isn't doing enough to ease gridlock on the busy roadway when the Blue Angels practice at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Traffic on the road is pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.

West Pensacola residents and business owners say a plan to alleviate traffic backup from thousands of cars headed to Pensacola Naval Air Station for the popular Blue Angels practice sessions isn’t working.

Following a meeting in April, county leaders, base officials and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office asked people heading to the practices to avoid Gulf Beach Highway — the most direct route between downtown Pensacola and Perdido Key and the base’s back entrance at Blue Angel Parkway.

They asked people headed to the practices to instead go north to Sorrento Road and then head south on Blue Angels Parkway. Road signs and additional sheriff’s deputies stationed at traffic choke points were also intended to help traffic flow.

But Escambia County Commission Chairman Doug Underhill said Wednesday that the Sheriff’s Office has had to cut back on the number of deputies monitoring traffic to and from the twice-weekly practices at the Navy base.

“We had solved the problem in the spring after we had a big group meeting with everyone involved,” Underhill said. “But the Sheriff’s Office remains so undermanned and underfunded that they don’t have the resources to continue (the extra traffic patrols).”

Escambia County leaders are encouraging people headed to Blue Angels practices at Pensacola Naval Air Station to avoid Gulf Beach Highway and instead head north to Sorrento Road and then south on Blue Angel Parkway.

Underhill said he gets weekly calls from people who live and work in the area complaining about the traffic.

“I didn’t get any calls when we had the deputies stationed out there during the practices,” he said. “The answer is that we need to fund the Sheriff’s Office.”

Underhill has presented a plan to cut funding in other areas of the county’s $455.6 million budget to add $3.2 million to the sheriff’s budget.

Homeowners along Gulf Beach Highway say the county isn’t doing enough to ease gridlock on the busy roadway when the Blue Angels practice at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Traffic on the road is pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.

Maj. Andrew Hobbs, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the office provided extra patrols for eight weeks in the spring after meeting with county and base officials. But Hobbs said the office does not have the money to continue the patrols through mid-November when the Blue Angels season ends.

Hobbs said the extra patrols didn’t appear to make a major difference in traffic flow and base visitation should slow down now that area schools are back in session.

“There is going to be traffic backup with that many people going through the (Blue Angels) gate at the same time,”  he said.

In the meantime, residents and business owners say traffic issues related to the Blue Angels practices and to general growth in the area are getting worse.

Steve Bobe, owner of Bobe’s Automotive specialists at 10261 Sorrento Road, said he often has to head east to go west because it is impossible to make a left turn out of his property due to the traffic backup.

The Blue Angels perform for the crowd during the Blue Angels Air Show on July 8, 2017, at Pensacola Beach.

“Part of it is the Blue Angels, but part of it is that we are just getting a lot more traffic in this area,” he said.

Bobe said another problem is people parking on the side of the road to watch the Blue Angels fly.

“On practice days, we will have people parked on the sides of the roads all up and down this area,” he said.

Lewis Fulk has lived in the Coral Creek neighborhood off Gulf Beach Highway for nearly 15 years. Fulk, who lives near the neighborhood entrance, said traffic increased significantly after the base began routing non-military visitors to the Blue Angels entrance.

Fulk pointed to a neighbor who had roped off his front yard to keep people from parking or turning around on the property.

“You would think there would be something that could be done with turn lanes and more signs, but that isn’t happening,” Fulk said.

Not everyone in the area is upset about the increased traffic.

Artie Erd, owner of Infinite Ink Tattoo at 1001 Gulf Beach Highway, said the traffic is good for business.

“The more traffic the better as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

 

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