After years of delays, the $1.8 billion, 26-mile toll road known as the Wekiva Parkway is finally getting a jump-start.
The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise will partner to complete ongoing studies and develop a finance plan to move the project forward, the authority board announced at its regular meeting last week.
Various studies are under way toward completing the project but financing has been slowed, in part by the recession.
The Expressway Authority expects approval of the project by the Federal Highway Administration by Sept. 1. With that in hand, the authority said it can proceed with design, right-of-way acquisition and permitting, with the ultimate goal of starting construction — expected to take at least seven years — in late 2012.
“This is an aggressive timeline but we are all committed to seeing it through,” said Walter Ketcham, chairman of the authority. “While it may certainly be possible for each of the entities to build the parkway alone, working together we can move faster and more affordably without exhausting our individual resources.”
The authority has commissioned an investment-grade traffic and revenue study for the project that is due before July. The study will assist in determining the roles that the authority and the Turnpike Enterprise will have in the finance plan.
The Wekiva Parkway route, which completes a long-planned beltway around the Orlando region, goes through parts of Orange, Seminole, and Lake counties. The route and plans to protect the environment were approved in the Florida Legislature’s 2004 Wekiva Parkway Protection Act.
Because the parkway travels through counties outside the Expressway Authority’s jurisdiction, the board last week also gave attorneys approval to validate bonds in court for the Wekiva Parkway.
Though validation of the bonds is not required by law it will determine if the authority can legally issue the bonds. The amount of bonds that will be validated was not immediately available.