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This is how many cars cross the Mid-Bay Bridge on a summer Saturday

The question might be as old as the Mid-Bay Bridge itself: ‘When is the best time for locals to cross the Mid-Bay Bridge during the summer?’

The short answer is that it’s complicated, but the traffic numbers on the bridge drop significantly between 8 PM and 8 AM.ย 

During the week – the answer is a little easier. Monday through Thursday, the highest-traffic hours are the commuting hours for people who work in Destin but live in Niceville, Crestview, DeFuniak Springs, or Freeport and take the Mid-Bay Bridge into town, according to Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Executive Director Van Fuller.ย 

The weekends see a different traffic pattern – with (as you might have guessed) plenty more people on the road. To make a point, the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority pulled data for a Saturday in July of 2022. In one day, the bridge had 15,447 cars going north and another 15,652 going south. Granted, some of those cars are locals going to work or to shop – but many in the sea of cars had Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana license plates.ย 

Planning your trip into Destin so you don't hit Mid-Bay Bridge traffic.

The 7 AM hour is the last hour before traffic starts to spin up in the southbound lanes to Destin over the Mid-Bay Bridge. By 8 AM, the number of cars crossing the bridge to Destin from Niceville and places farther north increases by 60% – to almost 1,000 cars per hour. By 10 AM, the number of cars crossing per hour on a summer weekend doubles, from 583 cars at 7 AM to 1,228 at 9 AM. Southbound traffic peaks at 21 cars per minute at about 10 AM, so you should probably avoid the bridge at all costs during that time.

This is an excellent place in the article to note that – the number of cars is not the only factor in the line backing up – another such factor is the number of visitors to the tolling place that don’t have Sunpasses. The more cars without a Sunpass, the longer the lines will be.

Once you are over the bridge – the real traffic problem begins. “The Mid-Bay Bridge is responsible for about 20% of the total traffic on Highway 98,” Fuller noted. That means once you cross over the bridge – you will still have plenty of traffic issues in Destin – regardless of when you leave.

Southbound traffic stays above 1,000 cars per hour until 6 PM, when it drops to almost 800 cars per hour. It drops off even further after 7 PM.

Long story short – get across the bridge to the beach before 8 AM or wait until 6 PM when traffic dies down again.

Leaving Destin - When's the best time to come back to Niceville? When should I start my trip back home from Destin, Florida?

The number of cars leaving Destin and using the Mid-Bay Bridge to do so doesn’t have as high a peak as southbound traffic. Instead, there is a more steady pace of cars heading throughout the day. That isn’t to say the northbound traffic does not peak – but that peak isn’t as bad. While 21 cars per minute pass south in the 10 AM hour – the highest volume going north for the Mid-Bay Bridge tops out at 1,004 at the same time – 10 AM. The next highest volume hour is at 5 PM when 972 cars head north. Between those two times, a slight dip in volume comes back up by the 5 PM hour as workers head north across the bridge. From there, the number of people crossing north trails off slowly until midnight, when the number falls precipitously.

So, when should I use the Mid Bay Bridge if I don't want to get stuck in bridge traffic?

If you are going southbound from Niceville to Destin –ย Leave before 8 AM to miss the early vacationers getting to the bridge and the morning commute. Traffic usually slows down again by 7 PM – just in time to enjoy dinner!ย 

If you are going northbound from Destin to Niceville –ย Leave at 9 PM or later to head back home and avoid the vacationer’s return home and the afternoon rush hour. There is also a dip in traffic at about two in the afternoon, when you can head north and miss the twin peaks of traffic on the bridge.ย 

2 Responses

  1. This article is so helpful for my family! I dread going to Destin from Niceville and even more, I do not like the Destin traffic. The widening of 98 does offer some relief and flow of traffic to San Destin but I avoid this โ€œmessโ€ if I can avoid it. When I am headed further East (to Santa Rosa Beach,) I always go through Freeport and access 331 and the free bridge to the beach. Thanks for this helpful article. The time info. helps to set reasonable expectations during the summer months. Great resource! Thanks.

  2. Get rid of toll booth and do tag by plate!! The technology already exists!!

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