By DOTTY NIST
Four buses were delivered at the end of February for the transit program that Walton County is working to set up along U.S. 331.
Delivery of the buses had been delayed as the county waited for their manufacture to be completed. The vehicles are now in DeFuniak Springs.
Plans are for the buses to provide transportation north and south along U.S. 331 for county employees and other workers, on a route between the Walton County Courthouse and the South Walton Annex and including the county offices at Freeport Business Park.
In February, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved a proposal by the Cribb Phillbeck Weaver Group, Inc., to operate the transit system using the buses. The approval was subject to county staff negotiating a contract with the company, due to the cost of the proposal exceeding the budgeted amount for the program. The program is being funded through a state Department of Transportation (DOT) grant.
Upon completion of negotiations, the contract is to be brought before the BCC for approval.
The $849,497 DOT grant provided for the purchase of the buses and is also to be used for initial operating expenses of the transit program during the first three years, with no matching funds being required from Walton County in connection with this grant funding.
The BCC had voted in 2016 to apply for the grant for purposes of addressing the issue of congestion and parking shortages associated with workers living north of the bay who commute to jobs in south Walton County. The program is also aimed at reducing unemployment among county residents who are unable to find jobs due to lack of transportation.
Initial plans are for the transit program to be free of charge to the employees and workers for the first few years or longer.
Walton County Planning and Development Services staff are heading up the effort to get the transit program in place. “We have narrowed the gap on proposal budget to available funding,” Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, reported on March 5. “We are a little short and are currently working to find the funding balance identification,” he added.
In response to a question, Carpenter said there had been no decision yet on colors, logos, etc., for the buses, but that the design would be created by the Val Sterns advertising firm.
Carpenter said the start of the transit program is tentatively set for Memorial Day.