BRADENTON, Fla. — A stalled beltway project near Jacksonville in northeast Florida will get a partial kick-start with the construction of a bond-financed segment, state officials announced Wednesday.
A 15-mile-long road-widening project, whose cost is pegged at $291 million, will be built with bonds backed by tolls sold by the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.
The project, to widen an existing road to four lanes from two, was part of a 46.5 mile limited-access toll road known as the First Coast Outer Beltway, which the state for years had planned to do as a single project using a public-private partnership.
“The First Coast Outer Beltway brings a high level of excitement with the accelerated schedule of one of the largest engineering projects in northeast Florida,” Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said. “It will be the impetus in creating jobs and promoting connectivity in the area.”
Prasad did not address whether the state planned to do the remainder of the beltway project.
Construction on the shorter project announced this week will begin next year with completion by 2016.
Tolls will be collected electronically with transponders. No toll booths will be included in the project.
Florida Department of Transportation officials could not be reached for more details about the Jacksonville project’s financing schedule or how it will be built.
It is not clear why the widening project was separated from the overall beltway plan.
FDOT reportedly abandoned its years-long effort to do the entire 46.5-mile project because the size made it difficult to attract a private partner, according to published reports.
In 2008, the department received qualifications from four consortiums interested in the concession.
However, the P3 procurement process was never completed because developers questioned if the successful bidder would be liable for paying property taxes. The state Legislature resolved that issue in favor of the successful P3 bidder.
Early last year, then-Gov. Charlie Crist announced that the project would move forward but it failed to gain momentum.
This week’s announcement comes just two week after Prasad unveiled a plan to expedite $3 billion of transportation projects, an initiative pushed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Prasad said FDOT would use “innovative financing tools” such as tolls and P3s to advance nearly $1 billion of construction projects in its budget during the current fiscal year.
Florida Turnpike Enterprise revenues would be leveraged to finance another $1.8 billion for projects.
A turnpike industry forum will be held in late September or early October to discuss P3 opportunities and various projects, including naming rights for the Florida Turnpike and its plazas.
In 2007, the Legislature increased the Turnpike’s bonding capacity to $10 billion from $4.5 billion.
The Turnpike has $2.9 billion of outstanding bonds rated AA-minus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, and an equivalent Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, all with stable outlooks.