BRADENTON, Fla. — The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority approved an agreement with the state Wednesday to move forward with one of Florida’s most expensive toll roads: the nearly $2 billion Wekiva Parkway.
A portion of the 21-mile tolled expressway, estimated to cost $504 million, will be built by the OOCEA and financed with bonds.
The balance of the project will be built and funded by the Florida Department of Transportation.
FDOT said that its estimated $1.2 billion cost of the project would be funded through state and federal resources, using cash and bonds issued by the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.
The state does not envision using grant anticipation vehicle revenue bonds, or Garvees.
The memorandum of understanding approved by the Expressway Authority board on Wednesday sets up a strict payment plan for $235 million in maintenance and operations costs owed to FDOT under lease-purchase agreements associated with existing expressways in the central Florida area.
The FDOT will cover a portion of its Wekiva costs with the $235 million payment from the Expressway Authority.
Without the MOU, the department would not be repaid until various OOCEA bond issues subject to the lease-purchase agreements are paid off.
As part of its due diligence, the OOCEA will now begin a peer review of the traffic and revenue projections, and a risk analysis of its existing debt portfolio, according to agency spokesman Jeff Marshall.
“We currently anticipate the finance plan to be presented to the board by the end of April,” he said. “Currently, the Expressway Authority plans to debt fund this project.”
The authority already has funds to begin the design phase, and funding for the next phase is likely to be needed in mid-2013, Marshall said.
The 21-mile Wekiva Parkway will traverse three counties: 8.16 miles in Orange County, 7.37 miles in Lake County and 5.41 miles in Seminole County.
The limited-access expressway, planned for more than three decades, will complete the western beltway in central Florida and relieve congestion on Interstate 4.
Full construction is expected to take at least seven years.
The high cost of the road is largely attributable to the fact that it traverses an environmentally sensitive area.
Most of the roadway will be on elevated structures to protect sensitive habitat. It will also include some tunnels for wildlife crossings.
The project still is awaiting approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
The FHA had been expected to release a record of decision last year, along with a finding of no significant impact. That determination is critical for construction to begin.
In a related move Wednesday, the OOCEA board voted to replace its financial advisor, First Southwest Co.
First Southwest had been the FA since 2002 when the Expressway Authority was given the power to issue its own bonds. Before that the agency’s bonds were sold by the state Division of Bond Finance.
On Wednesday, the board hired Public Financial Management Inc. under a $1.05 million, three-year contract.
PFM Asset Management Inc. also won a $548,500 contract to provide investment advisory services.
Under a more conservative posture since the credit crisis, the OOCEA in 2009 set a goal of reducing its percentage of variable-rate debt to 35% of total debt.
Currently, 37% or $999.1 million of the authority’s debt in variable-rate mode with associates swaps. The board has been restructuring debt and hedges as market conditions allow.
In a related action Thursday, the Florida Senate adopted a state budget after eliminating a requirement that the budgets of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority be subject to annual appropriation. The measure could resurface in conference with House budget negotiators.