BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida’s largest ever public-private partnership — a $1.8 billion, limited-access toll road in Jacksonville — will begin moving forward soon.
The concession process for the project, known as the First Coast Outer Beltway, came to a halt in mid-2008 when questions arose about whether the successful bidder would be liable for paying property taxes.
Last year, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation clarifying that P3s do not have to pay those taxes.
Late Thursday Crist announced that the Florida Department of Transportation would move forward with the four-lane, 46.5 mile limited-access toll road between Interstate 95 in St. Johns County and Interstate 10 in Duval County. The project includes 13 new interchanges and a new bridge across the St. Johns River.
“After decades of discussion, it is exciting that this project will enter a new phase,” Crist said in a prepared statement. “Connecting businesses and regions through better infrastructure ensures that goods are transported more quickly and consumers can have access to more businesses.”
At a special announcement ceremony in Jacksonville, FDOT secretary Stephanie Kopelousos said her agency would be meeting with prospective concessionaires next month before restarting the process to award a concession contract.
FDOT had received qualifications from four groups interested in the Jacksonville Beltway concession in 2008 before the process stalled due to the property tax question.
It is likely that the entire concession process must be restarted due to the time that has passed, but state officials were not available Friday to answer questions about the timeline.
Currently, the department’s largest P3 is the so-called I-595 Express Corridor project in Broward County at $1.25 billion. Its first concession of similar magnitude was the $1 billion Port of Miami Tunnel project in which tunnels are being built under water to provide heavy traffic direct access to the port and the Interstate system instead of using the current access through downtown Miami.
FDOT has developed a reputation for spearheading the use of concession contracts based on so-called availability payments, as they are known in the parlance of P3s. That means a concessionaire gets paid periodically, typically as funds become available over several decades through annual budgeting.
Those kinds of concessions are used more frequently in other countries.
When the economic downturn occurred and fewer state revenues were available for transportation projects, Crist ordered FDOT to speed up as many transportation projects as possible using innovative financing such as P3s.