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FDOT gets unsolicited bid for toll road across southern Pasco

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LUTZ — Jerry Stanley has spent 45 years building highways and bridges in Florida. Today, he’s the $2 billion man.

That’s the estimated cost to build an elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor linking Wesley Chapel to the New Port Richey-Holiday area. Stanley’s International Infrastructure Partners submitted an unsolicited bid on June 11 to the Florida Department of Transportation to lease the right-of-way so his company could build and operate the 33-mile toll road.

“What we submitted was a generic version of the proposal to ask FDOT to lease the right-of-way,” Stanley said. “They have decided it was worth proceeding so they asked for competitive bids. I’m semi-retired now. I may have to come out of retirement if this all works out.”

The FDOT’s District 7 office last week advertised a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) to see if any other firms can meet or beat Stanley’s proposal. The proposals are due Oct. 23.

By Monday morning, the DOT had already received inquiries from 10 other firms.

“Wow,” said County Administrator Michele Baker said. “Maybe that’s why he submitted it so early — he knew there would be a lot of competition. This northern loop concept — it’s huge. It’s a game changer for the Tampa Bay area. We know this is a valuable corridor.”

Pasco planners first began contemplating the elevated toll road less than two years ago, after Hillsborough voters rejected a sales tax referendum to build light rail.

“We had done enough studies to know that the toll revenue would be viable, so we hoped we would get an unsolicited proposal,” Baker said. “We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.”

The DOT and Florida Turnpike Authority have partnered with the private sector to build toll roads in Orlando and Miami, but this would be the “first of its kind, privately funded, designed, built, operated and maintained elevated expressway” in the state.

“There was a lot of intrigue, especially because there would be no cost to the taxpayers,” District 7 Spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

The DOT hired transportation planner Mike Coleman from RS&H to evaluate transit options along the S.R. 54/56 corridor. He eliminated light rail — which is cost prohibitive — in favor of the elevated toll road with rapid bus transit. Coleman presented his final report to DOT on Monday, but even he was caught off guard by the unsolicited bid.

“It’s been known for several months that this was our final recommendation, but I am surprised that this happened so quickly,” Coleman said. “It’s good. It’s exciting.”

Stanley, former chairman of the Florida Transportation Builders Association, spent the bulk of his career building bridges. He lives in Lutz, just off U.S. 41, and routinely drives through the clogged S.R. 54 corridor. He first approached Pasco officials with the concept of the elevated toll road.

“I was the one that came up with the idea of the private financing,” Stanley said. “It has to be totally private or it won’t be built. There’s no money for DOT for this project. This is the only way it will happen.”

He formed International Infrastructure Partners specifically to manage the “FL54Xpressway” project. His team includes financing by Guggenheim Securities. The construction company is PCL — the same firm that built Tampa’s elevated Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and is currently building the I-4 connector between the interstate and Port of Tampa.

“It’s all to improve traffic flow east and west for Pasco and north Hillsborough,” Stanley said. “There’s no good way to get back and forth from one end of the county to the other, and we’re trying to look into a crystal ball and fix the traffic problems before they get any worse.”

Stanley proposes building the toll road in three phases, starting with the segment between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and the Suncoast Parkway. The second phase would extend west to U.S. 19 and could potentially be combined with the first phase. Phase three linking Wesley Chapel to U.S. 301, just south of Zephyrhills, would be built at ground level.

“Pasco County will like that,” Coleman said. “We didn’t include that segment in our study because it was going to be built by developers.”

The toll road could include a transit component with as many as eight park-and-ride lots at key interchanges. Stanley said the transit element would be subject to negotiations.

Coleman’s study contemplated two toll charges: 14-cents per mile and 21-cents per mile. Depending on the toll pricing, the usage would fluctuate between 67,800 and 86,000 trips per day. A motorist would have to pay between $4 and $5 to drive the entire length of the 28-mile road from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to U.S. 19 without having to stop at a single traffic light.

He estimated the toll road could generate as much as $20 million a year. Pasco County has already contracted with Florida’s Turnpike Authority to do a more detailed toll analysis, but Coleman said that may be a moot point now.

With an unsolicited bid already on the table, there’s not much of a need to do a more detailed toll study, Coleman said. “If the private sector thinks it’s something they can make money on and they’re willing to assume all the cost, it’s a pretty tempting option.”

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