The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) has turned down an offer from the Florida DOT to take over and build the Wekiva Parkway, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The expressway authority was wary of the deal, in which the Florida DOT would retain all toll revenue from the parkway and collect $50 million a year from the authority for 35 years.
The expressway authority is still talking with the Florida DOT to work out some kind of partnership the would build the parkway, the final link in the beltway encircling Orlando. The authority currently has $2.3 billion in bond debt to pay off for the toll roads it already owns, and to build the $1.8 billion Wekiva Parkway without state or federal aid, it would probably have to borrow the money and increase its total annual debt payments to $115 million to $130 million.
The state DOT has greater income and reserves and could more easily handle the cost of constructing the parkway.
Accepting the state’s deal could have saved the OOCEA $65 million to $80 million a year in debt payments.
The mayor of Orange County, Teresa Jacobs, an authority board member, was surprised by the authority’s decision to reject the state’s offer.
“I think it’s worthy of serious discussion,” she told the Orlando Sentinel. “At this point, I have seen none.”
Jacobs is worried that if the authority builds the parkway on its own, it will have to raise tolls, and she is opposed to more toll increases. The authority raised tolls 25 cents in April 2009.
“My priority is to get the Wekiva Parkway built with the least impact on our toll payers,” she said.