Florida’s controversial first leasing of an existing toll road is bogged down due to the volume of questions and comments received from the six consortiums asked to submit bids, the Florida Department of Transportation said in a notice on Monday.

FDOT has not been able to prepare responses, which were due Monday. The agency said it expects to finalize and release the responses shortly on the www.alligator-alley.com Web site.

Lease of the 78-mile toll road known as Alligator Alley, which crosses South Florida from Collier County on the west coast to Broward County on the east coast, has drawn sharp criticism from nearby residents and area elected officials.

 State Sens. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and Burt Saunders, R-Naples, held a press conference last week to say that FOT has not been transparent enough about the lease process. They filed a public information request with the department seeking formal release of documents pertaining to the plan, including proposed changes in tolls and operations.

Saunders, whose district is in Collier County, held his own public meeting Sept. 16 to hear testimony to be provided to Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist supports the concession lease — which may be 50 years to 75 years — as a means of providing revenue for other transportation projects in the area.

Saunders, in a transcript of his public meeting, said he spent much of his professional life as an investment banker with A.G. Edwards, with experience in public finance in the Southeastern region of the U.S., and he did not see any public benefit to the lease.

“This long-term lease will look and feel like a sale of our, of our vital infrastructure,” he said. “There is nothing that these private companies can do that we can’t already do at the state level in terms of raising revenues, pledging tolls, and doing all of those things. The main difference would be that the state doesn’t have to lose that 15 or 17 or 18% profit [that would go to] a for-profit, foreign-controlled company.”

Consortiums are expected to submit their proposals for the lease by Dec. 15.

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