Bridge Addition for US HWY 331

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

  1. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    Once again, Dawn scores!!!!
     
  2. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Dawn, what upsets me is the process that government uses to push through projects. It helps to look at the history of this Highway 331 road widening project not that we can change the history. FDOT has repeatedly promised a widened road and could have used funds to do so but the funds went elsewhere. Now because money is tight and because they need high visibility (bridges) projects they are giving us an ultimatum. Help finance the entire project or we will once again send the money to another county that may have a better economic situation that will pass the .5% tax. I would support the tax but I can not support a toll. There is nothing that would create a bottleneck worse than a booth toll. There may be other options that has been very vague up to this point and I do not trust FDOT with deciding how to toll us. Remember they have a bidding process on projects and the lowest bid wins.

    It is not stupid for us to support four laning the road to I-10 with funds that are available not requiring any tax or toll while putting pressure on our State and Federal government to build us a bridge as soon as our elected officials can find us the money. I will stake my life on the fact that traffic will move 100% better and safer even without that bridge if we only had the four and five lanes between the bridge and I-10.

    It is not stupid to live within our means. If there are people who can not afford to pay the toll then you must listen to those people. Those people are the service industry that supports everything happening in South Walton.

    I wish the .5% tax would pass but I do not think the county has the time or the money to educate the people. The toll is a very bad idea no matter how many carrots FDOT gives us in discounts. The government wants to toll Walton county citizens just listen to their words. They will give us discounts but it will "delay" the length of time to pay off the 75 mil. I can hear it in their voices, "we want Walton County to help pay for that bridge". It does not matter that we already "pay" to live and work here. Property taxes, utilities and unbelievably high insurance rates. As a matter of fact I do not believe insurers are even writing property policies in Walton County. If you happen to find one it will be an arm and a leg premium.

    I have had quite a bit of dealings with FDOT. They have hidden agendas with most being politically motivated. Even though I am biased because I own a business North of the bridge I am sure that most people will resent stopping to pay the toll or having another monthly bill to pay.
     
  3. Abby Prentiss

    Abby Prentiss Beach Fanatic

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    Commissioner Larry Jones talked about his idea for a special district for the 331 corridor. He said the concept is based on the Community Redevelopment Districts. He said they are not talking about additional taxes, rather the difference in taxes when the project increases the property values. This difference would go to help pay off the County’s portion of the 331 funds. Jones also asked about creating design and development standards for the corridor. He said they have an opportunity to decide what the corridor will look like after the highway is widened south of DeFuniak Springs.
     
  4. BeachSteelers

    BeachSteelers Beach Fanatic

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    Florida counties have the option to add tax to gas sold within its borders. Easiest way to pay for this bridge for no one. Way better option than to increase sales taxes or a endless toll.
     
  5. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Andy A this is not a game and there are no scores. We all have ideas and opinions. To polarize community issues is wrong. We should all stop, think and listen to what others are saying who do not agree with us. If we do not do that as a society we will end up with a broken sociopolitical and socioeconomic system if not already there. We have to think outside the box of political idealogies if that is what is motivating you to look at this from a game perspective. If you are motivated by what is needed in this community it is a four lane road from the bridge to I-10 first and the bridge would be a secondary need. I am not sure we can afford to pay 75 million for the bridge and we should not have to. It is wrong for FDOT to give us this all or nothing ultimatum. We need our local officials and community leaders to represent our needs and not our wants. We need the road but we will be okay without the bridge for now. That said we can work together to try and pass the .5% sales tax. A toll would criple the economic dynamics of our community (which is all of Walton County). We need to educate the voters in that if we do not pass the .5% tax it is likely that we will get a toll. That should be our common ground in working together for the bridge not the dividing nature of "and score one for our side". If the tax does not pass lets just cross that "bridge" when it gets here...
     
  6. Andy A

    Andy A Beach Fanatic

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    mputnal3, it was said in jest and if it offended you, I'm sorry. We don't have a choice regarding the bridge according to what I've been told. It is a package deal. I agree that if we can't pass the sales tax, do not accept the toll. The fact still remains that we must build the bridge to receive the money.

    A word or two about how grants work. There are two kinds, "in kind", which are services or work to match cash given for a project and "cash match" which is exactly what it says. You put up a certain amount of cash. It is not an unusual or rare situation for this type of funding to occur in government functions. Any government has only so much money to spend (although we have now spent more than we have) and often they will ask lower eschelons to compete for it. Basically, that is what is happening here. We can either come up with the 75 million or the money goes elsewhere and costs to us somewhere down the road will be much greater than now. The 50 cents on a hundred dollars with a $5000 cap will hurt no one. We would be ill advised and backward looking not pass the sales tax.
     
  7. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    Also according to the news last night, Gov Scott has a bill on his desk that would make it easier to toll roads and bridges. He has in the past made statements about toll roads and private sector, it is also related due to the drop in taxes because of more fuel efficient cars according to the report.
     
  8. Abby Prentiss

    Abby Prentiss Beach Fanatic

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    From WZEP Am1460

    2[SUP]nd[/SUP] 331 Meeting

    Those gas saving cars and higher gas prices resulting in less driving are one cause for the lack of money to build new roads. And design and building practices taking longer than they can do it in China could be another problem as far as one resident is concerned. These were two issues as the Walton Commissioners held their second public meeting on the 331 widening. Like the meeting in DeFuniak Springs, this one in southern Walton only had about 30 in attendance.

    Commissioners were told by an FDOT representative that gas revenue is down. This is cited as one reason for the state requiring local participation on new projects. They were also told a toll and revenue analysis is being done. They are beginning the traffic study to determine what the toll amount would need to be to pay back the $75 million plus charges needed as Walton’s share of the 331 bridge project. The exact amount of a toll is not yet available, but they anticipate the numbers for the fall of this year. They will look at the traffic and its composition.

    Commissioner Cecilia Jones said she would like to look at a reduced rate for the working people who travel south. She also talked about all residents. A frequency analysis could be done to provide a discount.

    The commitment is, once the toll debt is collected, then it would be taken off. It will take about 4 years to build the bridge from design to completion. The state will be looking at the finance structure. They would match the revenues coming from the project to the financing. Commissioner Sara Commander asked if the County can ask to be able to pay off the bond earlier. This could be worked in. It was noted that tolling is not the answer for everything, but is one mechanism to pay for projects.

    A resident, Mary Nelson, asked about our area having high tourist traffic and people who do not have Sunpasses. She asked, if they use the toll-by-plate program where a picture is taken of the vehicle and a bill sent, what is the collection rate. For all, including in state and out of state, the collection rate is about 6 out of 10. Soon the state will start using a collection agency and expects this rate to improve.

    Walt Campbell, pastor South Walton First Baptist Church, said a toll will impact the faith community. He said people will not be able to attend if they pay all week to go to work. Campbell also pointed out they have no options if a toll can not be paid. He said they are at their mercy.

    Kirby Rushing said he would rather a toll than a tax because he has never seen a government do away with a tax. At least one other talked about his preference to a tax, saying .50 on $100 in not much. He noted there is a $5000 cap on the tax and food and pharmacy is not taxed. Another resident said he was a retired engineer and asked why not widen the road and simply add a lane to the bridge that is there. He said the time to design and build is long and could be a problem with raising costs. He told commissioners China built a large airport from design to build in a few months and suggested we could do the same.

    A vote will be held May 8[SUP]th[/SUP] to decide if residents want a half cent sales tax added. This would go to pay off the debt and would go away after the debt is settled. It would be the fastest way to pay the debt off. If the sales tax method is not used, then the commissioners can decide to use a toll on the new bridge only or find some other way to fund the needed $75 million. If they decide to do nothing, then the money will go to another bridge project in the state.
     
  9. happydays32

    happydays32 Beach Comber

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    i believe us walton county voters are in the classic catch-22. we turn down a sales tax for a new 331 bridge in the may 8th vote. with the tdc and sheriff supporting the measure, the county commission then approves a toll for its construction. pick your poison boys' and girls'.
     
  10. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Andy A, I believe we may have another choice if we do not pass the tax. A choice that will take true grit from our community leaders and a very good attorney. This county has jumped through enough hoops to get the four lane road. The four lane road is needed for all of our safety. I want a new bridge as much as anyone but we just can not put it on the back of our service industry. The money for the road is there. I believe that a good attorney will find sufficient legal grounds to prevent FDOT from pulling money from this county to widen the road because we can not afford the bridge at this time. FDOT already owns most of the land needed if not all. WTHeck is stopping them from widening this road? Answer: A bridge with the Governor's name or one of his sponsers name on it.

    Listen a toll method that collects tolls at 60% capacity is ridiculous. How much money will we spend trying to collect the other 40%? A toll booth will completely disrupt traffic and driving patterns. The toll is such a bad idea that I can not believe that anyone living and working in this county could support it. I am not sure my business and others North of the bridge would survive but that is not what is motivating my opinion. I believe FDOT is abusing their power to decide what roads get built and which ones don't and why. This abuse of power will increase and eventually (maybe us) people will start giving some heat to the seat.

    I am not offended by your gamesmanship but I think it is unneccesary. I would rather find a way to pass the tax rather than score a goal for the toll...
     
  11. Jim Tucker

    Jim Tucker Beach Fanatic

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    You're exaactly right but the BCC, Chamber, and most every biz owner in Walco want the bridge. A lot of ordinary people also. So catch 22 it is.
     
  12. Jim Tucker

    Jim Tucker Beach Fanatic

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    Some of us live in Walton and some of us live in fantasy land. Bats will fly out of my ass first. lol
     
  13. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    You know, I have yet to see a poll about the tax or toll issue, WCTA says that a majority of their members oppose the tax, ok. The final determination will be done May 8th when the ballot is cast and counted. I will be voting yes to the tax.
     
  14. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    I will agree with you about fantasy land but maybe a little differently. If we do not pass the tax and BCC gives the go ahead on the toll and you believe that there will not be a negative economic impact on people and businesses in Walton County then yes we are both living in fantasy land. In the mean time I am going to try to get that image out of my mind. LOL

    The bridge will not bring more people to South Walton County so I see no positive economic impact except for maybe a few years of bridge builders buying food, drink and rentals. I have never heard of a tourist planning a trip dependent on a bridge. Around the summer holidays when everyone is entering or exiting Walton County at the same time there is going to be traffic jams no matter how many lanes you have.

    How many more people do we need in South Walton? 1000. 10,000. 100,000. 1,000,000. 30-A, 98 and scenic hwy 98 is already clogged with people. I think we are all living in some fantasy land so why don't we put a sign on the new bridge that reads, "Welcome to Fantasy Island"...
     
  15. James Bentwood

    James Bentwood Beach Fanatic

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    Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to determine whether to approve a half-cent increase to Walton County’s sales tax to fund a second two-lane bridge on Highway 331 over the Choctawhatchee Bay.

    If the referendum is not approved, county commissioners could decide to use a toll to pay for a second two-lane bridge on Highway 331 over the Choctawhatchee Bay.

    The tax increase would cease once the bridge was paid off.

    The Florida Department of Transportation has asked the county to provide $75 million, as partial payment to build the bridge.

    In exchange, the state has offered $102 million for the bridge and agreed to complete within five years the project to widen 331 from U.S. Highway 98 to Interstate 10, a high priority for the county for decades.

    If the county doesn’t provide the funds through the tax or toll, DOT officials said the funds will go to another part of the state.

    U.S. 331 is the only north-south route through Walton County. Some portions have already been widened, but sections remain unfinished.

    County Administrator Greg Kisela estimated the total value of the project between $400 and $450 million, including the local contribution.

    However, the state has not released its own estimates of the costs of widening the rest of the road, said DOT spokesperson Ian Satter.

    “There’s no way to know that at this point until we can actually determine the rest of the areas that need to be widened and figure out the costs, that includes construction, right of way, engineering and design,” he said. “I don’t think we have a number for that yet.”

    Satter said regardless of the cost, DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad did promise to complete the widening project if the county provides the $75 million.

    “If the county does come to some sort of agreement whether it’s a tax or toll for the bridge, the Secretary will honor that commitment,” Satter said.

    1,328 votes had been cast through early voting and absentee ballots by Saturday night, the final day to vote before Tuesday’s election.

    517 people voted in the north part of the county and 811 in the south.

    Walton County Supervisor of Elections Bobby Beasley said turnout was low, but that special elections don’t typically draw a big crowd in early voting or absentee ballots. He expects more voters to show up on election day.

    Beasley said he thinks voters are having a tough time making a decision on the referendum.

    “You wonder if it doesn’t pass whether they will toll the bridge or they won’t toll the bridge, it’s not clear, so it’s kind of confusing to the voters I think,” he said.

    He said voters may be holding off until Tuesday to learn more about the issue.

    “That might be why, but it’s hard to say,” he said. “There might not be that much interest in it. We’ll find out Tuesday about 7:30 how the people felt about it.”

    Residents have been weighing the tax and toll options for months.

    The tax keeps control locally, while the toll hands it over to the state.

    The tax affects everyone who purchases taxable goods in the county. (Groceries, some toiletries and medical items are exempt.) The toll would be paid by only drivers who use the bridge.

    The half-cent sales tax increase would cost $100 for someone who spends $20,000 on taxable goods in a year, according to an informational report by the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce. It would raise Walton County’s sales tax rate to 7.5 cents, the highest rate in the state. Neighboring Okaloosa is at 6 cents and Bay at 6.5.

    DOT has estimated a $2 toll for the road, although officials said they won’t have exact toll amounts or any possible discounts for locals until long after Tuesday’s vote. At $2, daily commuters could spend about $500 a year crossing the bridge.

    Kisela and some county commissioners have said the project is an opportunity the county can’t pass up.

    Kisela said the bridge will be a boon for economic development, both by drawing new businesses to the area and by having the hundreds of millions of state dollars spent in the county while construction is taking place.

    Commissioner Cecilia Jones said the widened road will improve safety on U.S. 331. At least 34 people have died in traffic crashes along the road over the last ten years.

    Other people, such as members of the Walton County Taxpayers Association, have said they don’t think the project is a good idea at all and that Walton County shouldn’t go into debt in tough economic times.

    Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
     
  16. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    [TABLE="width: 750"]
    [TR]
    [TD="class: GraphTextColor, bgcolor: #EFF3FB"]FOR[/TD]
    [TD="class: RightGraphTextColor, bgcolor: #EFF3FB, align: right"]3,586[/TD]
    [TD="class: RightGraphTextColor, bgcolor: #EFF3FB, align: right"](58.61%)[/TD]
    [TD][​IMG][/TD]
    [/TR]
    [TR]
    [TD="class: GraphText"]AGAINST[/TD]
    [TD="class: RightGraphText, align: right"]2,532[/TD]
    [TD="class: RightGraphText, align: right"](41.38%[/TD]
    [/TR]
    [/TABLE]

    20 of 21 with absentee and early voting counted
     
  17. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Thank you for this update. This is a big day for Walton County!
     
  18. Bob Wells

    Bob Wells Beach Fanatic

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    It was definitely a surprise. it appears it won by 1078 votes if I did the math right. Poor voter turnout though.
     
  19. mputnal

    mputnal Beach Fanatic

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    Your results chart lowered my blood pressure by 15 points :thanks:
     
  20. Jim Tucker

    Jim Tucker Beach Fanatic

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    In what was a surprise to some, the voters decided to add the half cent sales tax to Walton County to help pay for the U.S. 331 second bridge. The vote was for the tax or against adding the tax. If the tax did not pass, the Walton Commissioners could have agreed to let the FDOT toll the new bridge. The tax will go away once the loan is paid off.


    As all 21 precincts came in, 58.64% voted for adding the half cent sales tax. A little over 6000 voted in the special referendum. There was some advertising, usually by private citizens asking voters to vote against the tax and not support a toll. A group was formed to help promote the tax and paid for advertisement, including a billboard along 331.


    Now that the tax is approved, the expected revenue can be used to finance a loan to pay Walton share of the $75 million request by the Florida Department of Transportation. The FDOT says a commitment from Walton to build the second bridge would also bring money to widen U.S. 331 all the way to I-10 with a promise to have it done by 2017.


    Walton has been seeking help for 50 years and has watched surrounding counties get roads widened with no local financial support. A toll was questioned by some due to concerns about workers and students who must travel the only practical route to south of the bay. Others feel a second bridge is not needed, even with evacuation concerns, and questioned why Walton has to pay for needed road work the state does for others.
     

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