OKALOOSA ISLAND — Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel hopes county bed tax money can be used to help pay for a long-proposed multi-use path that would cross Okaloosa Island between Fort Walton Beach and Destin.
Ketchel proposed that possibility at the County Commission’s May 15 meeting. That’s when in a historic first, the commission unanimously approved reimbursing the city of Destin $4.8 million in bed tax money to complete the city’s “crosstown connector” project to help ease congestion on U.S. Highway 98.
According to county information, state legislation effective July 1 authorizes the use of bed tax revenue for transportation capital improvement projects if they benefit tourist-related businesses and if other conditions are met.
For example, the county's Tourist Development Department must have collected at least $10 million in bed taxes during the fiscal year before a project is funded.
Among other stipulations, at least a two-thirds vote by the commission is required for a project to be funded. An individual professional analysis that shows the positive impact of the project on tourist-related businesses also must be completed.
The final section of the crosstown connector project will be budgeted starting in fiscal 2019. Construction of the final segment is slated to begin in September 2021 and be substantially finished by May 2022.
While Ketchel on May 15 seconded a motion to approve the use of bed tax money for the connector, she said she hopes bed tax funds can eventually be allocated for the proposed “bridge to bridge” path, as well as other projects that benefit the Fort Walton Beach area.
Ketchel represents District 2, which includes Okaloosa Island and much of Fort Walton Beach. None of her fellow commissioners commented at the meeting about the pathway.
Several years ago, members of the Okaloosa Island Leaseholders Association began urging county officials to look into installing a multi-use path for bicyclists and other non-motorists on the island.
With approval from the Air Force and Florida Department of Transportation, the roughly 5-mile path would stretch along either the north or south side of U.S. 98 and from just east of the Brooks Bridge to the Marler Bridge.
Last June, the commission approved paying $102,169 in bed-tax revenue to HDR Engineering Inc. of Pensacola to provide surveying and preliminary engineering and environmental services for the island pathway.
Future estimated project costs include about $70,000 for final design and construction plans and about $1 million for actual construction. A construction timeline has not been set yet.
According to the Leaseholders Association, the path could serve as a link to the so-called Great Northwest Coastal Trail Corridor.
When it’s eventually completed, the state Department of Environmental Protection-planned corridor would be a 263-mile path that would run through eight counties between Perdido Key near Pensacola and Bald Point State Park south of Tallahassee.
So far, the corridor is 73 miles long, with the longest stretch crossing most of Walton County and into eastern Okaloosa County.