MID-BAY BRIDGE

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Imagine the economic impact of an additional $29,000,000 a year being injected into the Destin and Okaloosa County economy each year. 

 

This is the amount of toll fees projected to be collected each year by the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority (before the Coronavirus Pandemic). Once the bridge is paid off and the tolls abolished, this $29,000,000 could be spent at local area businesses in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, Crestview, and the surrounding areas.

 

Be advised all information in this report was obtained from the Mid-Bay Bridge website, other public websites, and documents posted by other officials as indicated below:

 

ANALYSIS Comprised by Wes Fell

  • The Mid-Bay bridge is a dangerous and structurally unsound and eroding bridge that is only two lanes with no traffic barriers between traffic going 55 mph each way.  Head on collisions can happen very easily. 

  • The bridge funnels from four lanes coming from Destin to a two-lane bridge, and from Niceville to Destin the bridge road starts as eight lanes and funnels into a two lane bridge going to Destin.   

  • We need a new four lane bridge RIGHT NOW, just like the 331 Bridge, the Pensacola Bay Bridge and the Hathaway Bridge – all of which have no tolls and are owned and maintained by the state.

  • Today there is a $4.00 toll each way on the Mid-Bay Bridge, and a $2.00 toll for the Spence Parkway. This is a $12.00 toll round trip from Crestview to Destin.

  • The county and the Mid-Bay Bridge authority promised the tolls would go away after 10, 15, 20 years.

  • The Revenue generated from tolls the past 27 years is approximately 330 Million Dollars, with 29 million in toll revenue projected for 2020 (before the Coronavirus Pandemic).

  • The Mid Bay Bridge Cost $85,000,000 to build in 1993. The Spence Parkway cost about $125,000,000 to build. $210,000,000 total.  Most of the money came from bonds issued that will not be paid off until 2040.

  • The cost to maintain the bridge is about 4 million dollars a year * plus about 14 million a year to pay the interest and principal on the bonds.  This is truly highway robbery.

  • There has been approximately $80,000,000 paid for maintenance and repairs the past 27 years.

  • So, $210,000,000 to build - plus $80,000,000 maintenance = $290,000,000. 

  • So far, the 27 years of collecting toll revenue has generated about $330,000,000, which should have resulted in a profit of $35,000,000. However, the MBA actually has $48,000,000 in reserve in the bank, and they are still charging tolls.  

 

THE BOTTOM LINE IS

There is still a $250,000,000 debt owed on the bridge, and $180,000,000 of this debt is interest on the bonds.

Thus, the actual balance owed on the bridge is only $70,000,000.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

  • The Mid-Bay Bridge authority board members are appointed by the governor and receive no pay. They are all honorable public servants. However, two of them are running for public office and therefore should immediately resign from the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Board. One is running for state representative and one is running against me for County Commissioner in District 5.

  • Also, three board members told me they may vote to raise the toll fees again this summer.

  • One board member whose name I will not mention told me this. I asked him what am I supposed to tell all of the hourly wage earners working in the restaurant or hospitality industry, who live in Niceville because they can’t afford to live in Destin – and who pay $2400 or more a year to cross the bridge ($24,000 in tolls in ten years). He said – “Tell them to get another job.” This was very rude and unprofessional.

  • Another board member told me that – “if I stopped traffic on the bridge while I was holding signs to protest the tolls I would be arrested”.

I would be ashamed of myself if I was on the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority Board and

I was doing nothing to try and reduce or stop the tolls.

 

So, how do WE pay off the bridge and turn it over to the state and eliminate the tolls?

NOTE: This analysis was done before the Coronavirus Pandemic. However, the options below to pay off the bridge and stop the tolls is still a viable solution after the Pandemic is over.

  • First, the MBA authority should be abolished just like the Garcon Point Bridge authority was. The bridge must then be turned over to the state.  To do that we first have to pay off the bridge. It can be done.

  • Our elected officials, including the Governor, our State Representatives, State Senators, US Congressmen, and our County Commissioners must get involved. They all need to take action now to Stop The Tolls.

  • FDOT Should take over the bridge and Spence Parkway and pay off the bond holder’s, and run the bridge just like they do the 331 bridge, the Pensacola Bay Bridge and the Hathaway Bridge – WITH NO TOLLS.

  • Our County Commissioners need to ask the Gulf Coast Triumph Fund (BP oil spill money) to help out with paying off the bridge just like they did in Crestview for the Crestview Bypass.

  • Also, the former Emerald Coast Convention Center (now named the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Convention Center) receives about $8,000,000 a year from the TDC bed tax to subsidize it, because even after being paid off for many years WITH YOUR TAX DOLLARS the center still does not make a profit.  So, I propose the county should explore the option of turning the Convention Center over to a for profit management group and returning the $8,000,000 a year subsidy back to the county.  This $8,000,000 could then be applied to the balance due on the bridge each year until paid off.  Further the county could borrow the $70,000,000 balance with the $8,000,000 in bed tax money coming in each year and pay the bridge off immediately.  

  • Also, In lieu of abolishing the tolls completely the $8,000,000 subsidy could be used to purchase transponders for Okaloosa County Residents, and/or to charge a one-time annual fee like Disney for $199.00.  This $8,000,000 could pay for 40,000 local resident’s fees for a year. 

 

Mid-Bay Bridge Board Members

  • Gordon E. Fornell - MBBA Board Chair | Lieutenant General USAF, (Ret)

  • James D. Neilson, Jr. - MBBA Board Vice-Chair | Retired Insurance Exec

  • Victoria Harker - MBBA Board Secretary/Treasurer | Former FBI agent

  • Dewey “Parker” Destin  - MBBA Board Member | Restaurant Owner

  • T. Patterson Maney - MBBA Board Member | Retired Okaloosa County Judge

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