Work is under way building the Wekiva Parkway, a 25-mile, limited-access tolled expressway that cuts through one of Florida's most environmentally sensitive areas.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Central Florida Expressway Authority obtained a 1.23% interest rate on a 35-year TIFIA loan, the lowest long-term financing rate ever obtained through the program, a U.S. Department of Transportation official confirmed Thursday.

The nearly $200 million loan for the Wekiva Parkway project from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program closed Wednesday. TIFIA loans are based on the Treasury rate on the day of closing, which was 2.45%.

The Wekiva's financing rate was half the daily rate because it is designated as a "rural infrastructure" project, as opposed to an urban project. Rural projects are defined by USDOT as those "located in any area other than a city with a population of more than 250,000 inhabitants within the city limits."

A "significant number" of TIFIA loans have been given to qualified rural infrastructure projects, the USDOT said.

The $200 million loan supports the CFX's portion of the 25-mile, limited-access Wekiva Parkway toll road, which cuts through the state and federally protected Wekiva River Basin, one of Florida's most environmentally sensitive areas.

The expressway project was negotiated between state lawmakers and environmental organizations, with the outcome requiring more than 3,400 acres for conservation to be set aside, along with construction of elevated wildlife bridges.

The parkway will also complete the CFX's beltway around northwest metropolitan Orlando helping to reduce congestion in fast-growing Seminole, Lake and Orange counties, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a release announcing the TIFIA loan.

"The Wekiva Parkway is the sort of highway improvement necessary to support the economy of central Florida as travel demands continue to climb," Foxx said.

Central Florida has some of the most congested roadways in the country boosted by tourists and working commuters heading for the region's mega theme parks and the Orlando-Orange County Convention Center, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the country.

The CFX is building about 10 miles of the Wekiva parkway, while the Florida Department of Transportation is building the remaining 15 miles. Total construction is estimated at $1.6 billion.

"The Wekiva Parkway has been a priority for our region for a long time," said CFX deputy executive director Laura Kelley, in response to the TIFIA loan. "This extremely low interest loan will save our customers over $250 million in interest over the life of the loan, and gets the project open to traffic quicker."

Public Financial Management Inc. is the expressway authority's financial advisor.

Last year, the TIFIA program awarded a $949 million loan to the Ultimate I-4 project, a $2.3 billion reconstruction and widening of the interstate through Orlando to relieve congestion. That award was based on a short-term loan that earned a 2.32% interest rate, and a long-term loan that received a 3.17% interest rate.

Orlando has a population of 255,483, while the larger Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation with 2.3 million residents, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

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