The EMERALD STAR NEWS Inc.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Letter to the Editor,
It would be easy to blame the efforts of Florida‘s largest private landowner to the east and the more
populated counties to the west for getting lesser transportation needs attended to throughout the Panhan-
dle while Walton County‘s greater needs have been ignored. We could also blame the vague promises
made by our legislators in Tallahassee and Washington, which were easily broken and quickly forgot-ten. However, that would accomplish nothing.Walton County, as usual, must fend for itself. In some Florida towns and cities where I have lived,
that would spell doom and destruction, but not here, I‘m proud to say. Walton County folk are used to
doing their own heavy-lifting and making their own way.There is no question that we need a bridge system capable of providing four-lanes of traffic, just aswe need four lanes on US 331 from the Alabama line to US 98. Those who say we don't need this aresimply not in touch with reality. People who say that no bridge and therefore no four-lane highway isneeded do not understand the basic economic realities of northwest Florida.We have been lobbying for the four-laning of US 331 for decades. Why? Because we know that itwill benefit every facet of life here. It will allow us to attract new business and industry that requiresmodern transportation routes. It will reduce the number of senseless accidents and deaths on our high-way. It will allow tourists and travelers to reach their destinations without clogging our only north-southartery.It will allow faster evacuation during tropical storms and hurricanes and it will allow Walton Countyresidents to travel safely and quickly throughout the county, whether for work, shopping, dining or rec-reation.
DOT and the DEP have told us that we can‘t four
-lane the highway until we four-lane the bridge. Wecan dislike this statement, we can agree that it isn't fair, but in the end, we cannot change it.Though our current bridge was clearly designed to accommodate a second, two-lane span built at a
later date, thanks to DOT and DEP again, we have been told that we can‘t build a second two
-lane span but must start over.We do need to keep in mind that opting for the bridge doesn't just get us a bridge-it also gets US 331four-laned. That is the second part of the promise of DOT
build the bridge and the state will start four -laning the highway. So when we're talking about this issue, we need to remember that we're talkingabout a bridge and a highway.So now we must decide how to pay for our own much needed and long overdue improvements
tax or toll. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but in the final analysis, I do not favor a toll andhere are the reasons why.It would punish the working class and reward the wealthy. A tourist would pay a toll to reach southWalton, let's assume a total of $2 per car per year. Who pays the rest? The local people who work across the bay, who must travel the road every day, week after week, month after month, year after
year. That‘s $2 for the tourist
-$500 for the worker. Does that sound fair to you?Though we may not like it, the truth is, Walton County's only real economic driver is tourism - out of state travelers trying to get to the beach. Another bit of truth is that travelers routinely avoid toll roads
whenever they can. I do and I‘ll bet you do, too. With a new by
-pass currently under construction inOkaloosa County, there will soon be far too many faster, safer alternate routes to the beach available totravelers. Why take a toll road?Clearly, it would be more equitable to skim an extra penny from tourism dollars.Consider the total impact of a penny on the dollar from the $2,000 per week to stay in a rental house;a penny on the dollar from the hundreds spent in restaurants; on the hundreds spent in our shops andfactory outlets and for all the other south Walton amenities.
Multiply that amount by the tens of thousands of tourists who visit us year round and I think you‘llsee that‘s a far more equitable approach.
Will local residents pay, too? Yes, but we will also benefit year round
not just for one or two weeksout of the year
in the same way that our extra sales taxes provide free garbage and sanitation servicesyear round. Further, if we are ever going to be able to expand our economic base to include something besides tourism, we are going to have to have transportation routes that are as good as those thatalready exist in every other Panhandle county. We're already behind everyone else.Like all Americans, I hate taxes. I especially hate taxes that provide no benefit. I know that there is nogood time for more taxes. However, taxes are a fact of life and they can provide value. The only taxesany of us should favor are those that provide a direct benefit and actually improve our lives. Further, wemust insure that the penny tax expires when the original project is paid for and does not becomea tax for life.So how do we benefit? The first way is through protecting the health and safety of tourists and localcitizens alike by providing a faster and safer means of evacuation during hurricanes, tornados and tropi-cal storms.The second is through economic development. A four-laned US 331 means more industry and busi-ness
which means more jobs, better jobs for ourselves and our children. It means a stronger economyand a better way of life.It is the difference between a thriving, prosperous place to work, to live and raise our families and a place that will eventually wither on the vine, a place that has been passed by, populated by dwindlingcommunities with little hope and even fewer opportunities.When there are faster, safer alternate routes to the beach available to travelers, why would anyonechoose a two-lane road? And when they choose a faster, safer four-
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