By DOTTY NIST
John Finch did a presentation on a proposal for a CR-30A tram system at the Oct. 1 Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) meeting, calling the system “a green, environmentally-friendly program.”
Finch is owner of the local transportation services company Sunshine Shuttle & Limousine. He told the council members that 20 percent of the cars on CR-30A are rental cars—and that a tram system has the potential to remove many of those cars from the roadway, cutting down on traffic congestion and alleviating parking problems. Finch was also was confident that the program would reduce intoxicated driving on CR-30A.
The proposal is for a two-route system running between 30A Suites on the west end of CR-30A and Shades on the east end of the county road, with a tram hitting stops between those points every 30 minutes or less.
A combination of public and private funding is envisioned for the service. “We just want the TDC to be a participant,” Finch said. A tiered pricing structure has been created, with what Finch called “big box” participants bearing the majority of the cost for the system. As proposed, the TDC and six other participants each would pay $42,000 per year. The other “Tier A” participants would be Walton County, the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce, Rosemary Beach, Seaside, the St. Joe Company, and WaterColor.
Finch gave examples other Florida beach communities that have taken the step of providing public transportation, including Clearwater, Hollywood, the Space Coast/Brevard County, and St. Petersburg. As successes for the use of trams locally, Finch pointed to the system his company is operating at Sandestin and the shuttle program that was initiated over the summer between Seaside and Grayton Beach, in which Seaside employees parked in a lot off CR-283.
Following Finch’s presentation there were favorable comments from council members. However, some members also expressed concern about the fairness issue related to the TDC funding a service that would only be extended to part of the beach area. TDC member Scott Russell also pointed out that Sandestin is paying for its own tram system and does not receive TDC funding for that program.
Clay Adkinson, TDC attorney, reminded the members that an attorney general’s opinion had been sought on whether the TDC could legally fund a tram program that would serve a limited area. He said an answer had not yet been provided.
The council members voted to put off any decision on the tram proposal to their next bimonthly meeting— and oped to have one of the new TDC committees, the Destination Improvement Committee, study the proposal and develop recommendations. It is anticipated that appointments to that and the three other TDC committees will be finalized on Oct. 15, just prior to the TDC annual meeting, setting the stage for the committees to go into operation.