Residents Say Nearly 1 Billion in FDOT Funding Overlooks Walton - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Residents Say Nearly 1 Billion in FDOT Funding Overlooks Walton County

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A nearly billion dollar transportation funding initiative is bolstering road and bridge projects in four major Panhandle counties, with no additional taxes or tolls on residents.

Walton County is not a part of this group, and now residents are wondering why they have to foot nearly half the bill for their Highway 331 bridge project.

News 13 spoke to citizens who were demanding answers to why they feel they were overlooked.

"How did this happen to us," asked President of Walton County Tax Payers Association President, Dr. Don Riley.

It's a simple question with no clear answer according to Riley.

Walton County residents currently pay a half cent sales tax that goes towards 75 million dollars the County is contributing to a new bridge over Choctawhatchee Bay.

Riley said they were approached in 2011 by the state with a sense of urgency to fund the project.

"The state had drawn up a list of high profile, high impact for dollar spent projects. This was one of the one's the state had selected. We were the lucky ones in the lottery and we only had to pay 75 million dollars to play," said Riley.

He said it's State Law, under Florida Chapter 2010-255, that counties contribute to bridge or road projects.

"Budget money was tight and it would be a necessary condition. Well, that has not proven to be the case in the last week or so," said Riley.

Last week, nearly a billion dollars in needed transportation project funding was spread across Bay, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Escambia County, including 595 million dollars for a new Pensacola Bay Bridge. Residents aren't going to pay a toll or tax.

So, why, asked resident Frank Day, are they left holding a bill, when it seems there was money to spare?

"When this project was brought to the citizens of Walton County, we were told that we had to put forth 75 million dollars because money was tight and there just wasn't enough to go around. Now, clearly, there has been plenty to go around. I say DOT [and] the Governor owes it to Walton County to come back and dissolve this 75 million dollar debt and retire this half cent sales tax immediately," said Day.

Senate President Don Gaetz is a major supporter of the FDOT projects; but when News 13 asked, he said there was no talk of Highway 331 or Walton County in the disbursement of this most recent project funding.

"It had been funded months and months ago, and so therefore it was not something that was discussed in terms of future projects because the funding had already been agreed to," said Gaetz.

News 13 asked Walton County for their comment tonight and they released this statement:

 "Over the past couple of weeks, the County has been in contact with the Florida Department of Transportation, and based in those discussions, Secretary Barfield will be in attendance at the February 12 BCC to make a special announcement. As always, the County encourages the public to attend."

What this will mean for residents is still up in the air.