MATT GAETZ: Crestview congestion blocks military growth
I love our country — its diversity brings many conflicting ideas and viewpoints to the table. But one thing all Northwest Floridians can agree on is this: the Crestview traffic congestion on Highway 85 causes us all headaches and frustration. Yet in addition to creating a long commute, this congestion directly affects America’s military readiness and Northwest Florida’s contribution to the fight.
Every morning, nearly 30,000 soldiers, airmen, sailors, and contractors join thousands of civilian travelers on Highway 85. Home to the 96th Test Wing, 7th Special Forces Group, 33rd Fighter Wing, 53rd Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), Eglin and Hurlburt are critical components of Northwest Florida’s place in our nation’s military mission. Congestion on Highway 85 hinders that mission.
Northwest Florida’s military installations at Hurlburt and Eglin train some of our nation’s finest military personnel, preparing them to combat the most serious threats America faces — but when I discuss future threats to our security with military officials, one theme persists: our soldiers spend too much time stuck in traffic.
The 7th Special Forces Group and Air Force Special Operations Command stand ready to deploy to meet the needs of our Special Operations Command globally. When these servicemen get the call to leave, they cannot afford the lost time spent sitting in traffic on Highway 85. Even a one-hour delay can harm mission-readiness.
When a major earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, its people of Haiti were in desperate need of assistance. Hurlburt and Eglin responded. Within 26 hours of the earthquake, airmen from Hurlburt field were on the ground in Haiti. Thanks to soldiers from Hurlburt, Northwest Florida was the launch point for the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster response operation our military has ever undertaken. It took our air commandos less than half an hour to render the Port-a-Prince Airport operational. That’s less time than it takes to get from the Shoal River to Interstate 10 during drive time.
During my three years in Congress, the Air Force has dramatically enhanced its investment in Northwest Florida, sending or planning nearly $200 million in military construction to Eglin Air Force Base and $110 million to Hurlburt Field. The Pentagon wants Hurlburt and Eglin to grow further in order to meet the needs of our National Defense Strategy. It’s high time we have the infrastructure in place to support such an undertaking, and Highway 85 is an essential.
Last week, I went before the board of Triumph Gulf Coast to present the case for a Crestview Bypass, widening of PJ Adams Parkway and the construction of two “pressure valves” along Highway 85. This will lessen traffic congestion for our military community as well as civilians. A portion of the funds overseen by Triumph Gulf Coast should be released to fund construction of these release valves; clear traffic is necessary in order to enable rapid deployment from our military installations.
The board of Triumph Gulf Coast agreed, voting unanimously to release funds for this much-needed project contingent on Okaloosa County securing full funding commitments for the project by June 30, 2020. Directly on the heels of this news, the Air Force announced an additional F-35 squadron to Eglin AFB, bringing hundreds of jobs.
The Triumph Gulf Coast Board has wisely prioritized infrastructure to support our military mission. It is consistent with who we are as a community, and it will improve the quality of life for tens of thousands of Northwest Florida families.