Florida Taps Overseas Firm to Expand Key Highway

Published January 1, 2009

Florida transportation officials have selected a Spanish construction conglomerate to design, build, and operate the expansion of an interstate highway in the Fort Lauderdale/Plantation area.

The Interstate 595 project in Broward County will cost about $1.8 billion to build and will be finished much more quickly and less expensively than if the state were in charge, said Barbara Kelleher, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.

“One of the reasons we went to a 3P [public-private partnership] was they could do it faster than we can,” Kelleher said. “Improvements are needed now. They’ll start construction in 2009 and finish in 2014. If we did it with conventional financing, we’d be constructing until 2030 because we don’t have $1.8 billion over the next couple of years to do this.”

Reversible Lanes

ACS Infrastructores will build reversible express toll lanes in what is now the grassy median of a 10-mile stretch of I-595, pending final contract approval, which is expected early in 2009.

ACS will finance construction, design, and build the roadway and will install tolling technology, Kelleher said. Annual payments of nearly $64 million will go to ACS for 30 years after the road opens in 2014.

The existing three lanes in each direction will remain free, but two reversible lanes in the center median would be only for users of Florida’s SunPass electronic tolling system. The two toll lanes would operate eastbound in the mornings and westbound in the evenings. Kelleher said the state plans to collect the tolls and use the money to pay back the construction costs.

“Traffic volume on I-595 is huge,” Kelleher said. “In some areas it’s over capacity: about 175,000 and up per day [in the construction corridor]. I don’t think the tolls have been set. We want them to be tolls not everyone is going to use every day, but low enough to get people off the general-use lanes to make everything flow better.”

Congestion Pricing

With that in mind, tolls will be adjusted during the day in response to traffic volume, with tolls rising as traffic volume increases, and vice versa.

Kelleher said the state started working toward awarding a contract to a private firm about two years ago and “accelerated” the process partly because of the traffic congestion problems and a weakening economy.

“It’s a huge, complex project,” Kelleher said. “I don’t think the timing could be better, because it will create jobs, stimulate the area’s economy, and ease traffic congestion as quickly as possible.”

News of the selection of ACS Infrastructores came barely two weeks after the Chicago City Council approved a 99-year lease with Midway Investment and Development Corporation to take over operations at the city’s Midway Airport, which will bring in $2.5 billion. The deal makes Midway the nation’s first major commercial airport to be privately run.

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Budget & Tax News.