The Central Florida Expressway Authority has reached an historic agreement with Osceola County and its own expressway authority to take the lead role in designing and building the county's $2.5 billion southern beltway loop.
Osceola Commissioners unanimously agreed to a terms with CFX for the toll road agency to accept the OCX 2040 Master Plan -- a 60-mile beltway loop that interconnects with the CFX and Florida Turnpike system -- as a part of its own master plan.
OCX had been prepping for months to publish a request for letters of interest seeking private partners to help finance and manage the toll roads. The agency was on the verge of releasing a draft to the industry, but this agreement puts a halt to the process.
"This all happened in the last 30 days," Osceola County Manager Don Fisher said.
He told GrowthSpotter that CFX Executive Director Laura Kelley approached him about joining forces. "They were following our preperations for the RFLOI, and I understand her staff came to her and said, 'We can do this.'"
CFX had already agreed to collect the tolls on the new Poinciana Parkway, which opens April 30. As part of the expanded agreement, CFX will take over the operations and maintenance of the toll road. It was always envisioned that the Osceola toll roads eventually would be turned over to CFX.
"This agreement just accelerates the process," CFX Chief of Staff Michelle Maikisch said. "It really does bring us into the fold of being a true regional authority."
Under the MOU, CFX has 120 days to hire a consultant to conduct financial feasibility studies of each road segment. That study must be completed within a year, and CFX agrees to add the most viable toll project or projects to its five-year work program.
Fisher said he hopes to have at least one road added to the work program. "Potentially one -- hopefully more than one," he said.
The Osceola Parkway Extension is a likely candidate to be constructed first -- OCX already has $70 million earmarked to start the design and right-of-way acquisition. And the two tolling agencies have been working closely with the Greater Orlando Airport Authority on the interchange design at OPE and the S.R. 417. Preliminary cost estimates range from between $600 million to more than $800 million.
"This thing that we just voted on is a monumental deal," County Commissioner Brandon Arrington said Monday. "When three of us started up here, we didn't even have an expressway authority, and the idea that we're about to host a 5K on the first leg of our toll road and we're in realistic talks with a regional authority about the prospect of moving our projects forward. It's a huge day. It's either them or the Turnpike, and I'd much rather be in partnership with our local agency."
Members of the OCX board also gave Fisher their unanimous endorsement to negotiate the interlocal agreement. Maikisch said the term sheet would be presented to the CFX board Thursday. The feasibility study will be added to the proposed five-year work program, but Maikisch said CFX could not commit to starting construction on any roads in the next five years.
"It's to be seen," she said. "We don't know what the roads will cost at this point."
CFX also agrees to accept the Poinciana Parkway, initially as a non-system project, but the agency will have the right to buy the toll road for a $9 million cash payment. Polk County would receive a third of the cash payment.
At that time, CFX will acquire and refinance the bond debt and will reimburse Osceola County another $2 million for staff time and additional right of way that was purchased in anticipation of the road being widened to six lanes.
"What Don has done is identified an equity partner whose long-term best interest is to do these projects," OCX Chairman Atlee Mercer said.
Board member Bob Healy called the agreement "perfect," and said he wasn't ashamed to call on the expertise and funding capability of the larger agency.
"The process of the RFLOI really gave us a sense of the magnitude of what it takes to get this done," he said. "I think this is right where it needs to be. I'm not afraid of the speed at which this has moved. I think this is really good for Central Florida, these results are going to happen so much faster than we could do it."