By DOTTY NIST
Walton County has been promised a check of $50 million from the state as a rebate, due to bid results for the second U.S. 331 bridge across the Choctawhatchee Bay coming in much lower than expected.
State Department of Transportation (DOT) District 3 Secretary Tommy Barfield was present at the June 24 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the Walton County Courthouse to announce the awarding of the contract for the bridge and the rebate.
In May 2012, Walton County voters authorized the imposition of a one-half percent sales tax to fund the $75 million local match required by DOT in order for the bridge project to proceed. DOT had pledged to provide $102 in funding for the project, which was then estimated would cost approximately $177 million in total. The sales tax went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 as a means to repay Walton County’s loan for the amount of the local match.
“It’s a great day for the Florida Department of Transportation and a great day for Walton County,” Barfield declared at the June 24 BCC meeting. He announced the amount of the bid results for the bridge as $118,555,712. Barfield told county commissioners that DOT was moving forward with the execution of a contract with Skanska USA Southeast for the design and construction of the second U.S. 331 bay bridge. He anticipated an August notice to proceed with the project and was hopeful that the project would be completed in June 2016.
Due to the lower bid amount, Barfield proposed an amendment to the agreement between DOT and Walton County in connection with the local match, reducing the match to $25 million, with the county to receive a rebate of $50 million toward repayment of its loan in connection with the bridge project.
Barfield said the balance on the project cost would be approximately $7 million if the bid amount remained the same.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander expressed thanks to Barfield, noting that she and others has been working since 1995 toward getting the bridge four-laned. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Comander commented, adding that at the time the county entered into the agreement with DOT it had appeared the only way to reach the goal of getting the bridge expanded.
District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld thanked Barfield for staying true to his previous pledge to return any cost savings on the bridge project to the county.
Barfield accepted the thanks on behalf of DOT, crediting DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad for being instrumental with the cost savings being rebated to Walton County.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was anxious to know more about the $7 million balance that Barfield had referenced.
Barfield responded that the total bid savings had been more than $57 million but that he would be hesitant to release that entire amount due to several factors. The contract for the project has not been executed, and neither is there a permitted project or project design, he noted. There are many “unknowns” in connection with the project foundation, Barfield continued.
“So we have to hold back a certain amount,” he explained. He was hopeful that over the next year DOT would be able to release additional funds to the county due to cost savings.
Per the agreement, DOT has a 30-day period in which to provide the county with the $50 million, Barfield said. However, he added that he was trying his best to have the check ready during the week and planned to have it hand delivered to Walton County.
“Thank you for what you do for Walton County,” District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen told Barfield.
The commissioners unanimously approved the change to the agreement reflecting the $50 million rebate.