BRADENTON, Fla. - The Central Florida Expressway Authority will close on a $193.7 million TIFIA loan March 25 as part of the financing for the Wekiva Parkway.

The CFX board approved finalizing the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program loan on March 12.

The loan will go toward the 25-mile toll road for which construction is estimated to cost $1.6 billion.

The 35-year loan could potentially save more than $260 million over bond financing and accelerate a portion of the project by as much as 18 months, officials said.

The savings is largely because the TIFIA loan will qualify for a "rural" interest rate, or half the rate charged for an urban project, since the parkway will cut through the Wekiva River Basin. The basin is a state and federally protected environmentally sensitive area that is not very populated.

If the TIFIA loan had closed on March 12, the interest rate would have been 1.325%, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's TIFIA website.

"It's cheaper money than we could get any other place," U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, told the CFX board. He also said the parkway is the kind of project that the TIFIA program should support.

The Wekiva has been planned for decades, but was delayed until a 2004 historic agreement between the state and environmentalists on the route, construction methods, and the purchase of conservation land. It was further delayed until funding was negotiated between the CFX and the Florida Department of Transportation.

"I'm pressing for all the TIFIA loans to be just like this one," Webster said, adding that it should be a program that makes challenging projects "more feasible."

The Wekiva is a 25-mile toll road that will complete a beltway around metropolitan Orlando.

CFX is funding about 10 miles for about $630 million, the agency's all-in estimate that includes studies, right of way and design. The state DOT is funding the remainder.

The CFX's finance plan called for using the TIFIA loan, cash, and $127 million in senior lien revenue bonds to fund its portion of the cost.

However, the amount of bonds may be reduced because of the low rural TIFIA interest rate, according to authority spokeswoman Michelle Maikisch.

"This is good news for toll payers," she said.

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