Thread: New 331 toll bridge over Bay
New 331 toll bridge over Bay
From Walton Sun
With the widening of U.S. Highway 331 underway, a key cog in the hurricane evacuation route is still searching for funding. The Clyde B. Wells Bridge over Choctawhatchee Bay needs additional lanes in order to keep up with flow on the new and improved Highway 331. That probably won’t happen anytime soon, say state officials.
A new bridge will likely have to span the entire bay due to environmental concerns over a causeway. This will push the estimated cost for a new bridge to a half billion dollars, FDOT District Three Secretary Edward Prescott told the Walton Board of County Commissioners at a special board meeting on Nov. 22.
Prescott said his office receives $20 million a year for new bridge projects. Waiting until his office had enough money to complete the bridge would take years. He brought Matthew Click, intergovernmental programs coordinator, from the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to offer an alternative source of funding for the new bridge.
The FTE is part of FDOT and is run as a business.
“We sell transportation 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year,” Click said.
The FTE has more than 595 miles of toll roads and bridges under its authority throughout Florida. The new bridge, if funded by FTE, would have a toll. If the bridge were to be built in the near future, Click estimates a toll would be around $2.50.
“Bridges are more expensive because it is a suspended facility,” Click said. “It is more expensive then normal toll roads.”
Click added the toll would remain in effect for the life of the bridge and would increase every 10 years. The toll wouldn’t go away because the bridge still has to be kept in shape.
“Even when you pay your mortgage off you still have to re-roof your house,” Click said. “We are very conservative in toll increases.”
FTE funds new projects by taking municipal bonds out on Wall Street.
“For every $1 we collect we can leverage up to $14 from a municipal bond,” Click said.
Another reason for FTE to lend a hand in the building of a new bridge would be that if for some reason the new bridge wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay for the bond, the rest of the FTE system would support it.
Click warned of other counties getting in to trouble when they couldn’t pay off a bond. In the FTE system, if one area is weak the other areas support it.
FTE uses an electronic collection system called SunPass that allows its users to roll through tolls instead of waiting in line along with paying tolls manually, Click said. FTE collects nearly 58 percent of its tolls with SunPass already.
Wayland Davis of Choctaw Beach warned the BCC about thinking before committing to a toll bridge.
“It would have probably cost me $6 to get here today,” Davis said, at the BCC meeting. “You are giving up the rights of the people around here. Taking the easy way out is not the way of leadership.”
Click responded saying toll roads are a very passionate debate and the BCC will have to decide as a local government what is best for the county.
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