FDOT Refunding 50 Million to Walton County for 331 Bridge - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

FDOT Refunding 50 Million to Walton County for 331 Bridge; North 331 Expansion Study

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The widely discussed (and often disputed) Highway 331 expansion project drew buzz from both ends of Walton County, Monday.

Starting Monday morning with big news about the half cent sales tax and ending the day with a look at a new expansion.

It's no secret Highway 331 is Walton County's major thoroughfare. It's the county's main evacuation route and the major hub for industry.

So, when the discussion for the widening of 331 North was kicked off Monday by the West Florida Regional Planning Council, Defuniak Springs officials took notice.

"Basically what they are obviously sharing with us is a feasibility study that'll be probably the first of next year. What it sounded like to me is that the funding will only be for the feasibility study at this time and then there are several stages that must happen before there's funding for 331 north," said Defuniak Springs Mayor, Bob Campbell.

It'll be September when bids for the 3 million dollar feasibility study of 26 miles of 331 North will be advertised.

The study will look at the need for 4-laning the road from US 90 West, up to the Alabama line.

There are several phases of this job that could take more than seven years to work through, but already, at an estimated 5 to 6 million dollars per mile, the nearly 30 mile project is expected to be a costly one.

Speaking of costs, residents currently paying the half cent sales tax to pay back a 75 million dollar loan that funds the county's portion of the new 331 bridge are breathing a sigh of relief.

Monday, the FDOT alerted commissioners that 50 million of that 75 million will be refunded to the county, as the bridge will not be as costly as they originally expected.

What this means for taxpayers is that the sales tax will sunset sooner than expected. It's welcome news for some, but not everyone.

"We're very pleased about that, but we still have a 25 million dollar debt that we shouldn't have had in the first place. We all wanted the highway, there's no question about that. It's how we were going to pay for it," said Walton County Tax Payers Association Secretary, JB Hillard.

The 50 million should come back within 30 days, according to the FDOT.