Officials marked the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony March 28 shortly before the interchange opened to traffic.
Construction workers dragged the last "road closed" signs off the new interchange at Matanzas Woods Parkway — Exit 293 — at 4:35 p.m. March 28 after county and city officials marked its opening with speeches and a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by about 100 people.
The ceremony marked the conclusion of an 18-year project the county has been planning ever since the wildfires of 1998 demonstrated why the additional exit is needed. The interchange is expected to improve safety during such crises, and also to fuel economic development and alleviate congestion on local roads.
"This is a tremendous asset for the people who live in the northern half of our city, the northern half of our county," Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said. "I can hardly wait to come off 293."
"Transportation is like the arteries in our body, and if they're clogged, we don't function very well," Rep. Paul Renner said. "The same is true of our transportation."
County Commissioner Barbara Revels traced the history of the project for the crowd: The county realized the need for the interchange after the wildfire of 1998, which destroyed 71 houses, led to a mandatory evacuation of the county's then-35,000 residents. Now, there are about 105,000 residents in Flagler County.
The county dedicated the Matanzas Woods Parkway overpass in 2006. Overall, the project — including the overpass — has cost about $25.1 million. The county's share of that cost was about $1.26 million, according to a Flagler County news release.
The interchange itself cost $12.5 million, including $9 million in construction costs; the Florida Department of Transportation and the federal government paid about 94% of the project cost, according to the news release. The new Matanzas Woods interchange is the third and northernmost I-95 interchange in Flagler County.
The county coordinated with FDOT and state officials to have traffic modeling done in 2008 to show the need for the interchange, a process required for the project to get state funding, said County Engineer Faith Alkhatib. Another traffic study will be done in about six months to show how it's being used, she said.
After the ribbon was cut, County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin took his Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle down the southbound Interstate 95 entrance and then looped back around, taking the new I-95 exit onto Matanzas Woods Parkway and to the ribbon cutting site. The Kawasaki was the first civilian vehicle to travel the new ramp after the ceremony ended.
County Commissioner George Hanns, now in his 24th year as a county commissioner, noted that he was in his sixth year as a commissioner when the project began.
"Not only are we alleviating the traffic on Palm Coast Parkway, but everyone coming, say, from St. Augustine, they can get off here instead of U.S. 1," Hanns said. "This is really a great accomplishment for us."