Ironman Triathlon Route Draws Complaints from Locals

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BAY COUNTY - Each November for the last 14 years, as many as two thousand people from all over the world come to Panama City Beach to compete in the Florida Ironman.

They swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles and they cause traffic jams, depending on their race route.

A number of locals have apparently contacted county commissioners about the traffic congestion, which prompted a long discussion during Tuesday's commission meeting.

"People complain to us about the Christmas parade in different cities, the 4th of July parade in Lynn Haven. It's for a day. It's for a few hours and we make it work," said Commissioner Mike Thomas.

The competition takes place predominantly in Panama City Beach, but does venture up Highway 79 into West Bay and Northwest Bay County.

Some residents suggested the county's Tourism and Development Council move the race entirely to the beach, but TDC officials say that's not possible.

Commissioners are choosing to look on the bright side.

"They see a lot of our back woods and back roads areas and I think it's good for Bay County in that regard. We have a beautiful place here. On the positive side, it's nice to show it off," said Commissioner Guy Tunnell.

That trip into northern Bay County also ties up traffic at one of the beach's major intersections of Highway 79 and Back Beach Road.

Commissioners say there may be a solution on the way.

"Probably extending the road of Pier Park North and turning it into 79, which means this next year, that route can move off there and not affect that big intersection. That's been one of the biggest roadblocks if you will," said Thomas.

That possible solution won't be ready for this year's triathlon.

Commissioners approved this year's route, with little change from last year. The Ironman has anywhere from a 10 to 20 million dollar impact on the local economy.