DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Toll relief in effect for Florida drivers is hitting commuters where it counts, the wallet.
Daily commutes to Destin cost money for Okaloosa County residents and travelers. Two toll roads, the Mid-Bay Bridge and Spence Parkway connect Niceville to Destin making a day trip with a SunPass frequent tag to work and back a minimum of $6.
That adds up over time to $120 a month, $1,440 a year. Without a SunPass, each toll on the Mid-Bay Bridge is $4 minimum.
The alternative route takes drivers through Fort Walton Beach to the Brooks Bridge and across Okaloosa Island, an estimated 13 extra-mile workaround for those needing to get to Destin from the center of Niceville.
A temporary toll relief package called the SunPass Savings took effect on Sept. 1, 2022. The 6-month arrangement will give 20% credit to accounts that have 40 or more trips on a toll road each month. 25% credit for 80 or more trips.
Governor Ron DeSantis announced the SunPass Savings account for all of Florida’s Turnpike System and toll facilities owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). In total, the state estimates $38 million dollars in savings over the 6-month period.
“On average, customers using FDOT Turnpike facilities for their daily commute spend $50 per month on tolls. This program could save the average commuter $60 over the next six months, and commuters with more transactions will increase their savings.”Governors Press Office Statement on SunPass Savings temporary relief package
Impact being felt by residents
Talking savings, an average Crestview-Destin commuter can save a minimum of $360 during the 6-month period with the 20% discount.
Residents gave input to WKRG News 5 about the relief plan in action.
“Toll relief is a long time coming. The majority of workers for south Okaloosa and Walton counties live in In the northern parts of those counties. (Locals can’t afford to live like tourist). Many employees can’t pay the tolls and make a living wage (even at $15 a hour).” – Theressa Jones
“This will definitely help my family. I literally closed my business in Destin and now working in Niceville. Because the tolls were ridiculous. If you’re paying cash it’s $8 a day equals 8 hours that you work so that equals $1 an hour or less that you make each day. So eight times five is 40 then times that by 4 weeks that’s $160 a month that you’re spending just to go to work. That’s not counting the gas that’s now ridiculous.” – Sheila Mahony
“Going to be great for Floridians State wide. Especially for us small businesses.” – Frank Lasch JrFacebook users in the Niceville and Crestivew word of mouth pages
Others however feel like it should not be trip-based discounts, but location-based.
“Definitely a step in the right direction, but 1. It needs to be expanded to at least residents who live near the tolls. It’s ridiculous we have to pay an extra $6 just to go to a movie or to Lowes, since we don’t have those in Niceville. And 2. I won’t be surprised to see a price in the tolls to offset the savings.” – Dan Riley.
“I honestly think that there should be a special pass for locals to make it free but everyone here on vacation should pay.” – Jason Carpenter.
“You should be able to register your sunpass to your residence and get a 50% decrease on tolls in your county. This would help businesses on the other side of the mid bay durning the off-season tremendously.” – Drew Dabaker.
“Would be nice to offer additional savings to all locals regardless of number of trips per month. They can bump up the toll for non locals to offset the revenue. There’s gotta be a way they could make that happen.” – Susan McPherson.Facebook users in the Niceville and Crestivew word of mouth pages
More bridges in Northwest Florida are included such as Garcon Point Bridge and Bob Sikes Bridge near Pensacola.
New Florida Toll Relief proposal
Governor Ron DeSantis announced a new toll relief package Wednesday. The new plan will give a 50% credit to those with 40 or more toll transactions a month. The toll relief expansion would include any state toll road and help those using SunPass or E-Pass devices.
If passed, the new toll relief would start July 1, 2023, ending June 30, 2024. The credit will be seen directly on the customer’s account.
“This proposal would benefit approximately 750,000 Floridians who frequently commute and would save the average commuter around $550 a year.”Governors Press Office Statement on Toll Relief proposal
DeSantis’ proposal is not a sure thing. The plan must pass the Florida State Legislature next year to then be signed by the Governor. The next legislative session is slated for March 7, 2023.
Back to Okaloosa County drivers. While the workaround to Fort Walton Beach is a great scenic drive, FDOT is working to rebuild Brooks Bridge in the next 5 years which will slow that route in the future.