OKALOOSA ISLAND, Fla. (WMBB) — A bridge connecting the Florida panhandle is getting a facelift. Brooks Bridge connecting Fort Walton Beach to Okaloosa Island on Highway 98 will be rebuilt. 

A groundbreaking on Aug. 23 under the Brooks Bridge marks the official start of a $ 171 million project. 

Designs show the bridge will go from four to six lanes, extend past the Santa Rosa Blvd. intersection, and be set 65 feet in the air to prevent any boat collisions underneath.  

Florida Department of Transpiration (FDOT) guarantees that portions of the road will stay open for travel as the new bridge is built. 

“We will do everything in our power to maintain the existing traffic levels that we have today/ as we shift traffic, build the new parts, and then we’ll shift traffic to that and then reconstruct the old parts,” said Tim Smith, Director of Transportation Development.

Set-up construction started in Jan. 2023. Just a simple land shift on the bridge caused dozens of accidents. FDOT says they have implemented ways for locals and travelers to stay informed as construction continues.

“So for the locals, we have workshops to let them know what’s going on. We have our website that talks about the project, and the phasing of traffic that we have. We have announcements on the Interstate so they know what’s going on whenever they get down here,” said Smith. “As far as the out-of-town traffic, you know the visitors to our area, we focus on putting up message boards, giving them plenty of advance warning that as we shift traffic they need to be made aware of those things happening.”

Highway 98 is the main path across the panhandle to destinations such as Navarre and Pensacola. 

State Senator Doug Broxson said there will be headaches, but it will be worth it in the end.  

“Go to Orlando and Tampa and see what they deal with,” said Broxson. “When you try to integrate a project in a very densely populated road it creates natural conflict, but we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to get these six lanes. We’ve got to get this traffic off the road back to people where they can go eat and enjoy their life.”

Broxson said residents can make their voices known during the nearly five-year construction.

“If you look at the gain, it will allow you to endure the pain,” said Broxson. “If you have a problem, call your local delegation and tell them what it is. Don’t be frustrated.”

A protected pedestrian path will be added to each direction so walkers can take in the view.

The bridge is slated to be completed in the Fall of 2027. 

Find more information about the project and others across the area online.