With several major Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) projects underway in Bay County, local leaders expressed fear Wednesday that some long-range plans could be put on the backburner as a new slate of freshmen legislators takes office.
Jason Peters, director of transportation development for FDOT’s Northwest Florida office, spoke at the Bay County Economic Development Alliance’s (EDA) investors meeting, outlining several multimillion-dollar roadway projects prepping for construction in the area. The most significant projects include a $75 million project to construct a flyover at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 23rd Street in Panama City, and a roadway expansion project moving State 390 from two to six lanes.
Peters also looked toward the future, relaying several projects moving down the pipeline with feasibility and environmental studies underway. The department is now in the plan development stages for a project to widen State 388, formerly County 388, between State 79 and State 77 from two to four lanes, and is conducting a study to explore the feasibility of moving U.S. 231 from four to six lanes between U.S. 98 and State 20.
Other efforts outside of Bay County include moving several of the Panhandle’s north-south corridors from two to four lanes to provide better access to Interstate 10.
“Basically from [U.S.] 231 back to the west, all of our north-south corridors are either under construction ... for four lanes or will soon be under construction for four lanes,” Peters said. “As a transportation agency, and as we all should be, we should always be looking down the road for what’s next.”
However, Andrew Levy, EDA member and chairman of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce, relayed skepticism about future funding opportunities stemming from a recent delegation meeting with Bay County’s new representatives and state agency officials in Tallahassee.
“We’ve been extremely successful in securing funding over the last several years,” Levy said. “Our delegation in Tallahassee was extremely skeptical ... that we’re going to be seeing transportation money in the future for a lot of these long-range projects.”
Levy encouraged EDA members to keep the area’s long-term transportation plans in focus in conjunction with FDOT and the Bay County Transportation Planning Organization as the Legislature moves toward a new session.
“We kind of had a perfect storm with the way our legislative delegation was structured and the focus that they had on these funds; they were pretty clear we may not have that going forward,” he said. “As a community, with the growth we already have teed up, to continue that growth we’re really going to have to coordinate together to get that funding in the future.”
Levy’s comments were echoed by Lynn Haven Mayor Walter Kelly, Bay County Commissioner Bill Dozier and Jorge Gonzalez, senior vice president of the St. Joe Co.
“For this group, I don’t think there’s a more strategic partner than the FDOT,” Gonzalez said, describing the lobby for state transportation funds as an extremely competitive sport. “Infrastructure, when you really look at it, is the key to economic development.”