Bridge Addition for US HWY 331

Discussion in 'Local Government and Groups' started by Bob Wells, Nov 1, 2011.

  1. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    Bob,

    I believe you are a fire and safety employee, hardly a member of the cohort accompanying transfer payments. Public safety employees provide a necessary and valuable service. Unfortunately, the cohort to which I refer all too often fails to do so, but then, your role is a proper one for government involvement. Many, if not most, government functions today are improper exercises of power, producing on balance a worsening of our society. The resources devoted to them come from you and me, and those resources could be much better employed.
     
  2. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    Oh, so you are referring to the folks who show up day in and day out to provide the services that elected officials have decided are needed for the administration of government. These are the same folks that are there even after the politician is no longer there.
     
  3. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    Bob,

    Are you being deliberately obtuse? The reference is to federal bureaucrats.

    Fortunately, having to see people face to face at church, school events, the grocery, WalMart etc. on a daily basis and knowing both them and their families has the effect of making local government employees our friends with jobs, friends who neither possess much arbitrary power nor who would exercise it maliciously and for personal agendas were they to have it. The further government is removed from the individual citizen, the less responsive and honest that government becomes.

    If you don't think our federal government is incredibly wasteful and inefficient, I guess I'm wasting my electrons here with you.
     
  4. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    So there are not bureaucrats at every level of government, as for me being "obtuse" maybe you should consider that your comments may have more than one meaning depending on what is being said but obviously I am the the one who is obtuse. Brave person to make a negative comment behind a screen name as Bob Hudson has said I am accountable for my words.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2012
  5. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    Bob,

    I am going to weigh in here, as while I understand what you are saying, I think you miss what lazin'&drinkin is so superbly saying. He is absolutely right in his assumption that the closer to home your government is, the more responsive to you, as an individual, it is. The federal government is in shambles and has been for some time. The governing of the nation has been taken over by the bureauracracy and Agency heads instead of our elected officials. Look at any major agency of government and note the regulations they are making without input from any elected source. The recent EPA decision regarding coal fired electric generating plants comes immediately to mind and it is not the only example. We are slowly but surely destroying what my and the previous generation sweated and toiled to build.

    I am also a retired state worker and feel my contribution in the field of EMS in its early days meant something. I also believe that some government workers do sit on their hands and do very little except draw their paychecks. If you are a private entrepreneur, you can fire that person. Try that with a government job. In closing, I feel sure that lazin&drinkin was not being negative toward you because of any dislike of you personally or your opinion. He was merely pointing out that on this particular issue, he feels your opinion is off base. So do I and that goes for Dawn as well.
     
  6. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Everyone should be entitled to an opinion, right?

    My opinion is that I do believe it will be in our county's best interest to toll or to tax for the new bridge. I admit to having a biased opinion as I own a business on the North side of the bridge and for that reason only I might agree to a .5% sales tax but it will be hard to swallow.

    FDOT should not be holding us hostage to a toll or a tax to widen the road and build the bridge. I am sure I am wrong about this but it "seems" that Walton county is not a well represented (politically) county in the eyes of our State government. Otherwise we get the road and the bridge without a tax or a toll as other nearby county's have done. Our citizens are hard working, tax paying and very much involved in local government which translates into good stewardship for our community. A toll is a penalty for living, working and visiting people in our community. We should not have to pay for this bridge with a tax or a toll.

    Maybe we need more time to find other options. It is wrong for FDOT to put this bridge and road on our backs. We all have opinions based on our experiences. It is not about who is right and who is wrong and why but it will hopefully come down to how many of us have "similiar" opinions. I am an open minded person and willing to listen but for now I say NO TAX and NO TOLL for that bridge. There has to be another option. IMO
     
  7. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    mputnal3, there's is another option. And it is probably 10 or more year's down the road and much more costly. Not my problem. I won't be around to worry about it or see it.
     
  8. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    Walton is a small population county relative to our neighbors, and a great deal of its economic engine relies on taxes paid by out of state folks, both tourists and property owners with expensive vacation homes or rentals on or near the beach. While they pay the freight in taxes for our county, very few are voters in FL, and they and we thereby don't exist as a potent political force at the state level. Our neighbors have more representation because of their numbers. That alone should make them a more potent political force, no matter whom we send to Tallahassee.

    Our federal budget is not and should not be a source of much if any funding for this project. The federal government is broke, in debt over our heads from irresponsible spending, and our state government is similarly cash-strapped. The only reason this project was proposed is that the Governor was looking for high-visibility, high-impact projects for FDOT with potential for high economic rates of return on the investment. This project was the one identified by Mr. Barfield for this district.

    The state does not have the funds to allocate to do the project without local funds assisting, or so FDOT maintains. There is a long-standing economic rule that I phrase as "There is unlimited demand for that which is or is perceived as free." The question for us is do we believe that having over a quarter billion dollars spent locally will have short-term, intermediate-term and long-term benefits to the citizens of this county which exceed the moneys expended. I believe the answer to be unequivocally Yes.

    Though the state and we as citizens would have been better served had there been an organized, well-documented body of evidence supporting the assumption that there are huge benefits to be had locally, both economically and in quality of life and safety, which far outweigh the economic pain and angst which we will have to one extent or other, the fact is that those facts are not at hand. I personally think it entirely reasonable to assume that the benefits to be had are vastly more valuable than the costs at this time.

    As to giving it more time, there is an almost certain economic opportunity cost to be paid by delay. Interest rates are at historic lows, and the cost of construction likewise. Both the cost of money and the costs of construction are almost certainly going to increase, almost certainly dramatically so.

    The classic means of escaping debt for a nation is inflation, and our government has been setting the stage for that for quite some time now. We have a huge and steadily increasing threat posed by our national debt, and our government has printed and continues to print vast amounts of money. Foreign investors are no longer buying our debt in the proportions of the past. Our Federal Reserve in 2011 bought 61% of our new debt. That shell game cannot continue much longer without dire consequences to our country and to the world.

    The state of FL says there is no other option available to us. We can tax, toll, or do without. The do without likely means for a couple of decades. The human costs associated with that are vast and awful to contemplate. We have an opportunity before us that we may never see again. It may not be the opportunity we would like, but it's the best one we have and the best we are likely to see for a long time, if ever again.

    I write all this as a man with no personal dog in the hunt. I'm nearly 70, retired, and any indirect benefit to me by increasing the taxable base from economic development is of no concern to me. Having the bridge and 4-lane will not affect my life materially other than make it more difficult for me to get to DFS for BCC meetings and meetings with our county officials there while the construction delays endure.

    Andy and I may well both be dead before this project is completed. He and I share a vision that extends beyond ourselves and that is what is best for the community in our view. We realize others don't necessarily share that perspective or agree with our view, but we both want people to look beyond themselves and their prejudices and work toward the common good.

    We believe that, warts and all, this project is the best alternative we are likely to see, and we believe that in one fashion or another, tax or toll, Walton County will be better served by accepting this project than by refusing it.
     
  9. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Andy A and lazinanddrinkin I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and admire your dedication to the cause. In my humble opinion I believe this county will be alright without the bridge but we absolutely must have a four lane road from the bridge to I-10 for "safety". There is no good reason why this can not be done without the bridge except that it is not "high visibility" to politicians (trust me it will be plenty visible for all of us). The four lanes all the way to I-10 would have tremendous impact on safety and travel time. We as a community should do whatever we can to support the four lane widening even if we have to file a lawsuit. The four lanes is a safety issue. The bridge is a "visibility" issue. Maybe the lawsuit is not a good idea but I am sick and tired of the process that FDOT uses to get what they want and not what we need. I do not have the answer to the way our political system works. Again, I learn a lot from both of you and realize that there is no substitute for experience. I value your opinions. I am sure that you are right about all of this but I hope there is another option available to get this road widened to four lanes within the next 3-5 years with or without the bridge and not with a toll. I do not believe we can pass the tax...
     
  10. Truman

    Truman Beach Fanatic

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    With Florida Turnpike and FDOT representatives attending, the first of two public meetings to take input and give information on how to widen U.S. 331 from south of the Clyde Wells Budget to I-10 took place Tuesday afternoon. There were about 30 in attendance at the Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.





    County administrator Gregory Kisela said there might be more questions than answers by the end of the meetings. Kisela referenced a letter from the FDOT District Three Secretary Tommy Barfield. Barfield was present.





    Barfield said they were excited about the possibilities. He said they would not have all the answers yet, saying this is a structured process. Barfield said all the questions will be answered by the end of the process. While he did not reveal it, Barfield said he is expecting some good news soon.





    The consideration of a toll, additional sales tax or some other way is due to a requirement from the FDOT that Walton partners with a $75 million share for the bridge. To bond against this means having a dedicated source of income. The promise is, if a toll is placed on the northbound bridge, this would be removed once the loan is paid off. The commissioners have already stated they will not seek renewal of the toll for other needs.





    A change is the possibility of discounts for locals. If a toll is used, Barfield said he would assure that it will be sunset when the debt is paid off. Dian Scaccetti, Executive Director of Florida’s Turnpike said the study has not been done, so the exact toll and discount is not yet known, but there can be one. This discount would be for residents and for volume based. Discounts are being used elsewhere. The mechanism, such as a SunPass Portable or SunPass Mini could reflect a discount. High volume users, such as a business, could also get a discount. SunPasses can be purchased online and at various businesses, some already in south Walton. Scaccetti told First News they could possibly even place an ATM type machine in north Walton or a location where customers can pay with cash instead of a credit or debit card.





    Another way to pay the toll is through a photo license plate generated bill, or Toll-By-Plate. This would send a statement for all trips that month to the address of the license plate. If you have a Florida tag and do not paid a toll, it is considered a moving citation. If it is an out of state tag, they can use a collection agency since a citation can not be used. This is under a new law that will be signed into effect later this year. Rental cars have a choice in the rental agreement to participate or do so on your own.






    With FDOT Secretary Barfield there, Commissioner Sara Comander asked about the location of the new bridge, the proposed second bridge. The new bridge will be east of the current one, a northbound bridge. If a toll is used, it will be the northbound new bridge that will be tolled. The bridge will be shore to shore, not using a causeway. He said the existing causeway will also get repairs to prevent settlement. They will basically build a land bridge where the roadway is actually on pilings. Boat ramps and docks will be maintained.





    Walton Administrator Greg Kisela said it would be hard for the commissioners to make a decision if they do not know the amounts of the toll and discounts. Commissioners were told the more discounts offered will increase the cost of doing business and how long it will take to pay off the debt. Giving the discounts will also effect the time to pay off the debt.





    The facility would not be a Turnpike facility, rather one by the FDOT. There will be a legal agreement that the toll will sunset once the debt is paid off and not extended. The Turnpike Authority will be a collecting arm for the FDOT. Barfield said they are not a tolling expert and the Turnpike Authority is being used to help in this situation. The ordinance already passed by the commissioners says the toll can only be used for repayment of the debt.





    Resident J.B. Hillard said many questions were answered by Barfield and the Turnpike Authority. Hillard, an outspoken opponent to the tax and toll said he has made a major turn around and now supports the toll. He said he will change his sign to “No Tax, Go Toll.” Hillard said this is an opportunity and he has come 180 degrees. He pointed out, if the referendum for the half cent sales tax fails, the commissioners will have to make a decision and he will support a toll.





    Art Dees asked if there is an option to go across the bridge and then buy a sticker tag to get back across. These are $4.99 and they give you a $5 credit with a requirement for a $10 balance. There are also multiple vehicle classifications with a per axel charge. While a lower toll could be given to a more than two axel vehicle, Turnpike Executive Scaccetti said this would mean a two axel car would pay the same amount at a truck and trailer. She explained these vehicles cause more wear and tear on the road.





    Kisela said, generally, the project is a million and a half to two million a week spent; this for south of the bridge to I-10. Some of this will stay in Walton County.





    The next meeting will be in southern Walton at the South Walton Courthouse Annex, at 5pm on Tuesday, April 17th.
     
  11. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    Mputnal3,

    I too think the bridge unnecessary for the present and short to intermediate term, and I went to Tallahassee hoping to convince FDOT that the moneys they proposed for the state share of the bridge could better be used for widening 331, a much bigger imperative in my view. My view and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Waffle House, I suspect, but it went nowhere with FDOT. We either take the bridge and kick in 75 mil, or the whole thing goes elsewhere. And with it I suspect our place in a long line for further funding. FDOT has made it very clear. It's their way or no highway, so to speak.

    Were there another way to skin this mule, I'd be right there examining it. I don't see any such, and I've spent a lot of time and effort looking for it. I too think the tax will fail. I can only hope my friend Andy is right in his belief that the BCC will pass the toll in the face of what appears to be a likely big defeat for the tax. The latest poll I've seen (an hour ago) shows nearly 2-1 opposition to either tax or toll, with the latter faring a little better but still failing, sample size near 750. I might add that the significant majority of respondents to that poll live south of the bay, and opposition north of the bay is appreciably higher than in the south.
     
  12. Kurt Lischka

    Kurt Lischka Admin Staff Member

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  13. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    bobbob, great summary of the DeFuniak meeting. I will only urge all those in the South to attend the Apr. 17th meeting and to offer your input.
     
  14. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    I would urge all those who live in the North part of Walton County and vote, to consider the usefulness in the long run of a main four laned artery running North and South through the county. Those with even a modicum of foresight will quickly realize that this is not an issue of division within the county, but one that will bring progress and growth to all of those in business, regardless of where they are located. The .05% sales tax would be quickly overtaken by the increase that could develop throughout the county economically. Let good business and growth sense prevail and pass the half cent sales tax. It would be much less expensive to local residents than any proposed toll.
     
  15. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    Concur!!!!
     
  16. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Do I understand this correctly? Walton county will vote on the .05% sales tax in the near future. Vote fails and then the commissioners agree to the toll with FDOT. The toll is even less popular than the sales tax and every commissioner would be held accountable. Every time I drive over that toll bridge I would regret supporting any of those commissioners even with a 50% discount. The toll will completely change the economics of this county as it will be much better to do business on one side (South side) from hence forth. People look at a toll like they do gas stations and will pay more for the products they purchase to avoid paying a toll. The gas analogy is that people usually drive out of their way to pay less at the pump. Paying more for gas to an oil company that already makes 37 million to 119 million dollars a day in profit will do that to you. Paying more and more taxes will do that to you. A toll is like a slap in your face tax.

    I would support the .05% tax to avoid the toll but it will not pass. I believe we would get the money to widen Hwy 331 from the bridge to I-10 for these reasons:

    1. Walton County would have a legal argument to widen the road for safety.
    2. FDOT spent a lot of money purchasing the land to widen the road and therefore they already own the land.
    3. Walton County has already made good on a sharing cost for the Freeport bypass.
    4. There have been several fatal accidents on Hwy 331 just North of the bridge. FDOT becomes responsible for any further accidents if they do not widen this road.

    Either we find a way to pass the tax or we will all live with the consequences.
     
  17. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    1. Walton County would have a legal argument to widen the road for safety. How do you feel they would have a legal arguement? Safety will improve IMO but that won't get it done plus the State is only liable for limited amount which might be cheaper to pay out.
    2. FDOT spent a lot of money purchasing the land to widen the road and therefore they already own the land. That just gives them the opportunity to widen the road in the future with those cost already taken care of.
    3. Walton County has already made good on a sharing cost for the Freeport bypass. And the State wants more.
    4. There have been several fatal accidents on Hwy 331 just North of the bridge. FDOT becomes responsible for any further accidents if they do not widen this road. Sovereign Immunity, and people die on roads all over the State, I would be curious how many of the auto related deaths are from the road and not driver error.

    That said, I support the widening and the bridge on 331. I do not support the toll and although I would prefer to shorten the length of time on the tax, I support it.
     
  18. lazin&drinkin

    lazin&drinkin Beach Lover

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    I think the tax the better alternative, but if and when it fails, I think we need to accept the toll. I might point out that the tax is 0.5%, not 0.05%. I personally abhor tolls, too.

    FDOT does not own any of the land for those sections of 331 not yet funded. Negotiations by both state and county folks have been ongoing, but to my knowledge, none has been bought. Your other three arguments, while appealing to those of us in Walton, have had and will not have any more import to FDOT than presently, which is to say, FDOT understands all that and says cough up 75 mil or the money goes to another part of the state.

    It's my hope that one way or the other, we end up accepting this project. I think it unquestionably the least bad of a set of suboptimal choices. Should we fail to accept one of the FDOT alternatives, Walton and its citizens will be worse off than with either of the alternatives presented us.

    Businesses and residents will accommodate whichever, be it tax or toll, and life will go on, safer for all and better for most. the alternative of not accepting simply means that all will be less safe and more people will suffer the consequences of not having the project. Each of the three scenarios has winners and losers. The question is, or should be, which has the most winners and the fewest losers, and how can we mitigate the losses of those who suffer adverse consequences. The fewest winners and the biggest losses come from not accepting either tax or toll.

    Mputnal3, if my COA is buying pine straw from your business and your expenses, be they gas prices, tolls, or whatever increase your cost of doing business, it's probable that we'll end up swallowing a price increase from you. Rising prices are just a fact of life. Given the habits of our national rulers and our Federal Reserve, it is entirely likely that the increase in your cost of doing business from a toll would be barely noticed in the inflation to come.
     
  19. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    .05% was typo. I am not really worried about my expenses going up because of a toll bridge. All businesses find a way to survive by cutting expenses or increasing retail or going out of business if they don't. I am actually worried about three things regarding a toll bridge:

    1. Driving habits will change. People avoid toll roads if at all possible. That is just the nature of humans.
    2. Toll collections. We do not have enough information. If there are booths there will be a major bottleneck. There will be a traffic signal at Short Ave and there is not but a few hundred feet to the bridge.
    3. I do not trust FDOT to provide us with sufficient infrastructure to accomodate all people use of this project such as pedestrian traffic including sidewalks and landcaping. There are many things to consider and we are being railroaded into a decision.

    If FDOT already owns much of the land to widen Hwy 331 but chooses to send money elsewhere because we did not agree to their bridge ultimatum they may have soverign immunity from criminal prosecution but I assure you that society will provide moral prosecution. It is outrageous that FDOT will risk our safety to have a "visible" bridge project even though we can not afford the bridge at this time and are willing to give the money to a county that does not have the same logistics.

    All the land is purchased from the bridge to Hwy 20. I understood from talking to land owners that much has been purchased between Hwy 20 and I-10 or at least ongoing.
     
  20. Dawn

    Dawn Beach Fanatic

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    All I know is it is the height of stupidity to have a 4-lane highway from 98 to I-10 with a 2-lane bridge bottleneck.
    On the other hand, rampant development and over population is also unwise and the scenario as it is unfolding (no bridge expansion) will bring growth to a screeching halt (at least from the bay to I-10). remember the days when St. Joe wanted something, like a bridge or moving a highway), all they had to do was snap their fingers?
     

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