BRADENTON, Fla. — The Florida Department of Transportation has kicked off a year-long process to select a concessionaire for its biggest public-private partnership ever: the $2.1 billion managed-lanes project on Interstate 4 through Orlando.

FDOT is seeking qualified firms interested in building the 21-mile so-called Ultimate I-4 project that will span Orange and Seminole counties.

Responses are due March 29, and a concessionaire is expected to chosen by March 2014.

Using a 40-year P3 concession contract, FDOT plans to shift responsibility for designing, building, financing, operating and maintaining the project to the private sector using milestone and availability payments.

Various sources of funding to pay for construction are being contemplated, including bonds, a low interest federal loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, toll revenues as well as state and federal funds.

Federal funding is expected to pay for more than half of the project.

The FDOT said it will take the lead in securing a private-activity bond allocation from the USDOT if firms choose to use it as part of their plan of finance.

The state has also submitted a letter of interest for a TIFIA loan.

More than 1,000 registered for an industry forum last week, which attracted a long list of international and domestic P3 firms.

Eight prospective concession teams that met individually with FDOT last week.

The teams are I-4 Ultimate Expressway Partners with Odebrecht, Samsung, Bilfinger Project Investments, and Balfour Beatty Investments; I-4 Development Partners with Macquarie Capital as the main firm; I-4 Mobility Partners with Skanska Infrastructure Development as the main firm; 4wardPartners Team Members with Vinci Concessions as the main firm; Cintra US and Ferrovial Agroman; Ultimate Mobility Partners with  Infrared Capital Partners as the main firm; and Toronto-based Forum Equity Partners, an infrastructure and real estate development firm specializing in P3s.

"Our goal is to have financial close on the project by the summer of 2014 with construction beginning later that year [or] early 2015," FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said last month when the project received formal approval to proceed. "I'm excited to have the department's largest P3 to date started, and to get this megaproject moving forward."

Construction on the massive project is expected to take up to six years through counties that suffer from severe traffic congestion due to the location of mega-theme parks and other development in the growing Orlando area.

Orlando is the 15th-most congested city in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

The Ultimate I-4 project includes reconstructing the existing Interstate and 15 interchanges, adding two managed express lanes in each direction, building 56 new bridges and replacing 68 others.

The managed lanes will use variable pricing tolls that rise as congestion increases in the corridor.

All tolls will be collected electronically by transponders. Trucks will not be allowed to use the new express lanes.

Along with the FDOT, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority are involved in various aspects of the project.

Ultimate I-4 consultants working for the state include Reynolds, Smith & Hills Inc. as primary engineer, KPMG Corporate Finance LLC as financial advisor, and Nossaman LLP as legal and procurement advisor.

URS Corp. is preparing the traffic and revenue forecast.

Details about the project, including a detailed video and the request for qualifications, are posted on a special website at www.moving-4-ward.com.

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