CRESTVIEW — Northwest Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization members generally agree a regional transportation authority is probably a good idea.
But not right now.
Commissioners responded to a Wednesday afternoon presentation by Clarence Eng of transportation consultants Kimley-Horn, who noted that all three Northwest Florida counties have public transport systems, “but there are gaps.”
“This is a group that thinks regionally in terms of transportation, but in this study, we were not able to define that vision,” Eng said. “Once identifying those needs, how can we, whether through a series of interlocal agreements or an RTA in the future, put this into perspective?”
Individual commissioners, however, said there is currently little interest in a regional transportation authority.
“It's an interesting idea that’s 20 or 25 years ahead of its time,” Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Boyles said. “I think we need to demonstrate we can operate small-scale operations for our citizens before we look at a large scale system.”
Boyles said tourists are not generally interested in regional transportation.
“We’re a drive-to market,” he said. “They're interested in getting in their large-size SUVs and getting here. They're not interested in getting on a bus. They want to load up their Tahoe and Escalade and head to the beach.”
His sentiments were paralleled by other members.
“We’re a 97-percent drive-to market,” Destin City Councilman and former TPO chairman Jim Wood said. “Once they get to me, can I get them to park their cars and take the bus? That’s an uphill fight.”
Most of the commissioners, however, said in the future, as their county populations grow, unified regional cooperation would make more sense.
“It could potentially in the long term alleviate some of the problems we have on (State Road) 98,” TPO chairman Lane Lunchard said.
“We need to improve our own system before we think regionally, but I think we should move toward this in the future,” Pensacola City Councilman Charles Bare said.