Walton to reconsider toll for new bridge, delays referendum March 14, 2012 9:14 PM LAUREN SAGE REINLIE / Daily News
DOT officials said they will provide an additional $75 to $80 million to complete expanding U.S. 331 to four lanes from the Clyde B. Wells Bridge to Interstate 10.
DOT already had offered $102 million for the bridge if the county agreed to provide $75 million, either through a sales tax increase or a toll.
Without a commitment from the county, the DOT has said the funds would be allocated to another part of the state.
The county has been trying to get U.S. 331 widened for decades. Officials say it will help with traffic safety, evacuations and economic development.
In February, commissioners voted unanimously not to pursue the toll option. Instead, they decided to hold a referendum on a half-cent local sales tax.
“Now, if the referendum gets turned down, this gives the board the discretion to consider the toll,” County Administrator Greg Kisela said Wednesday.
DOT District 3 Secretary Tommy Barfield sent a letter to the county Tuesday outlining some of the issues discussed at the March 6 meeting.
“In recognition of its continued commitment to this important transportation corridor, FDOT is willing to commit additional funding to widen the corridor north of the bridge and complete construction by 2017,” Barfield said in the letter.
Jim Bagby, town manager of Rosemary Beach, spoke at the commission’s meeting Tuesday. He said he is concerned that the DOT did not specifically lay out some of the commitments it made earlier in the month.
The dollar amount the DOT plans to contribute to widening U.S. 331 and the specifics about how long it would toll the bridge were not included.
“The letter didn’t quite represent what had been presented to me after the meeting (with DOT),” Bagby said Wednesday. “At some point before you go down this toll road, you need to have a firm fix on the details.”
DOT officials also mentioned at the March 6 meeting that they would consider setting up some kind of toll discount for locals.
Barfield’s letter said the DOT has begun to study the possibility, but that results are not expected until July.
Kisela said he plans to work with the DOT to get some details before then.
The DOT has extended its June 1 deadline for the county to make a decision about its offer, but it still is asking for a commitment by July 1.
“We can’t very well expect to make a decision without knowing some of the details of the toll differential,” Kisela said.
The county also pushed back the referendum date so commissioners can hold two public hearings on the toll issue in April.
The referendum on the sales tax increase now will be May 8. The dates for the public hearings in April have not been determined.
Kisela said the county wants to make sure voters are informed about the new information and all the options on the table before they go to the polls.
“This is information you need when you decide how to vote on the referendum,” he said.