In the spring of 2015, Robert Davis, co-founder of Seaside and father of the new urbanism movement, called together a diverse team of specialists in transportation innovation, his quest a solution to what many see as a major detractor to life along Scenic Highway 30A. This charming county road has provided so much to attract visitors and residents alike to South Walton, but is also a potential roadblock to further growth and economic prosperity. Seasonal traffic woes plague the small, two-lane road that serves such renowned beach communities as Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, WaterColor, Seaside, Seagrove, Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach. Once a small country road with little traffic, “30A” as the locals call it, is often plagued by parking and congestion problems.
Davis, a member of the Board of Governors of the Seaside Institute, assembled a team led by Dr. Joachim Taiber, professor of engineering at Clemson University and Chief Technology Officer of the International Transportation Innovation Center (ITIC), and me, Jay Liles, a consultant to the Seaside Institute, to work with the Institute to explore the feasibility of offering an array of transportation options for 30A’s scenic route and to seek funding options to deploy a transit system. From that humble beginning we are now on the verge of securing political and neighborhood support for what will be one of the most innovative, on-demand transportation systems in the country.
The 30A Mobility Project will work to offer intermodal transit options with a focus on zero-emission, auto-piloted vehicles of all sizes and types along 30A, as well as connector lines north and south in Walton County and a regional feeder network for those arriving at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Bay County. In addition, ITIC aims to become an anchor tenant north of Bay County in what will be one of Northwest Florida’s premier education centers housing specialties in the design and operation of autonomous vehicles.
Below is a timeline of events marking the milestones of this exciting new venture:
July 2015 — The Seaside Institute makes application to the Walton County Commission seeking funding for an intermodal transportation system serving County Road (C.R.) 30A and to provide connecting service to locations in the northern area of the county along US 331, as well as to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. The application requests funding to establish a campus in Freeport for further study of autonomous vehicle technology.
July 2015 — Walton County receives a $25,000 grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to enable the Seaside Institute to conduct a workshop and report on the feasibility of road redesign and associated efforts to offer intermodal transportation options on C.R. 30A.
October 19-20, 2015 — The first 30A Mobility Workshop conducted by the Seaside Institute and ITIC explores the feasibility of road re-design and engineering and the technological applications needed to offer a mix of intermodal transportation options for use along 30A. These include bike and walking trails, zero-emission vehicles and autonomously piloted vehicles. A commitment by the Seaside
Institute to provide studies with recommendations for achieving these goals is made.
January 2016 — The first of the submissions to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) detailing perceived challenges of resolving the issues of overcrowding on C.R. 30A is completed. The Walton County Board of County Commissioners approves a $120,000 grant to the Seaside Institute for a second workshop to further study the feasibility, design and initial deployment of a small-scale pilot program. In addition, the funds will be used to gather stakeholder input regarding the project proposals. These grant dollars are awarded from a fund set up to remedy damages caused by the Deep Horizon (British Petroleum (BP)) Oil Spill in 2010 — not taxpayer dollars. Rather, they are paid by BP as a part of the settlement agreement reached with the five impacted states after the spill.
March 2016 — The second report to the DEO is submitted, and details the potential transit stops along C.R. 30A with connecting stops containing varieties of zero-emission vehicles for use in traveling within the communities adjacent to 30A. The Florida Legislature approves a $500,000 appropriation for the preliminary design and engineering phase of the project. These dollars will be used to conduct preliminary scope, design and technical studies to support the 30A corridor portion of the project as well as to secure grants for future construction and deployment of the system.
May 10, 2016 — Walton County receives a feasibility study from Atkins Engineering that encourages efforts to increase the use of intermodal mass transit options along 30A, as well as eastward and westward along Highway 98. Also included are the results of an online survey of residents and visitors to South Walton with respect to traffic and parking issues affecting quality of life and easy access to amenities. The Seaside Institute submits the final report to the DEO comparing recommendations made by the 30A mobility project and the findings of the Atkins Engineering survey.
May 24-26, 2016 — The Seaside Institute and ITIC hold the second mobility workshop in Seaside. Building upon the ideas generated in the first workshop, 30A Mobility Workshop II brings together engineering, automotive and technology experts from around the world to explore ways to effectively deploy autonomous vehicle and wireless communications technology for transit operations.
May 27, 2016 — Robert Davis hosts a meeting with Walton County officials to discuss the cooperative agreement for a campus in Freeport to house the test track and education/research facilities for ITIC. Attending is Doug Duncan, the principal owner of Owls Head, a planned community that fell victim to the 2008 Great Recession. Now this land on U.S. Hwy. 331 may offer a prime location for the campus. Duncan gives his approval to move forward with discussions at the city and county level.
In July, Walton County will receive the state appropriation earmarked for initial design and scope of work efforts. At that time, additional stakeholders meetings will begin across South Walton and into the north end of the county. Residents, owners, businesses and visitors will all have a chance to offer their thoughts and suggestions at future public meetings.
Jay Liles is a policy consultant for the Florida Wildlife Federation and also a consultant to the Seaside Institute. In this latter capacity, he is serving as the project coordinator for the 30A Mobility Project.