BRADENTON, Fla. - Four consortiums filed technical proposals to compete for Florida's largest public-private partnership to date: the $2.4 billion "I-4 Ultimate Project."

The four proposals, from groups that include top firms in the P3 industry, came from the short list of groups selected by the Florida Department of Transportation to compete for the job of widening 21 miles of Interstate 4 in central Florida and adding tolled express lanes.

The project is designed to relieve severe congestion through the mega-theme park region and growing Orlando area.

The FDOT has received a $2 billion private-activity bond allocation from the Federal Highway Administration, and arranged for a conduit issuer, if the winning consortium chooses to use the financing.

The state has also applied for a low-interest loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program that could help finance between 33% and 50% of project costs, according to DOT officials.

Financial proposals from the groups are due March 13, and will include their price for the 40-year P3 contract.

"The successful proposer must have a proven ability to arrange and close financing on favorable terms, as well as demonstrated skill in managing and operating limited access roads on behalf of public sector owners," FDOT officials said.

Selection of the winner is expected to take place at a public meeting in April.

The consortiums vying for the project include well-known national and international companies working in the P3 industry, including several firms involved with the Indiana Finance Authority's East End Ohio River Bridges Project, which was The Bond Buyer's 2013 Deal of the Year.

The FDOT, which does not have bonding authority, plans to use the Florida Municipal Loan Council's bond program operated by the Florida League of Cities as a conduit if the winning consortium decides to use the federal private-activity bond capacity.

In the past 15 years, the council has issued more than $1 billion of bonds to finance capital infrastructure projects for cities, counties, and some special districts. In recent years, the council created an infrastructure financing program, and previously issued $59.1 million of bonds to provide gap financing for an FDOT interchange project in Duval County.

A special website for the I-4 project is at www.moving-4-ward.com.

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