A month after rushing their consultants to get the bid process going for the 60-mile beltway loop, the Osceola County Expressway Authority (OCX) agreed Tuesday to hit the pause button.
"We need the time to organize ourselves and put our best foot forward in the marketplace," OCX Executive Director Jeff Jones said.
The authority approved the $426,300 contract with AECOM to prepare a Request for Letters of Interest (RFLOI) to gauge private sector interest in designing, building and operating either part or all of the county's 2040 master plan - a system of toll roads that eventually link to Interstate 4.
Officials now say they plan to publish the RFLOI in late February or early March. The team from AECOM will meet with stakeholders, including Orange County and large property owners who will be directly affected by the highway designs. They also will fine tune the traffic and revenue studies and analyze various delivery methods ranging from traditional procurement to design-build-finance and come up with cost estimates for each method.
"Our job over the next few months is to be able to describe to the industry as a whole exactly what our expectations are and what resources we can provide them," Chairman Atlee Mercer said. "We got to put down a punch list of all the things we've done. We need to involve CFX. There's a lot of moving parts. We want to make sure when we put this RFLOI on the street, we've shown all the opportunity and risks."
The beltway loop encompasses Osceola's entire urban growth boundary and includes the Poinciana Parkway segment, now under construction by Jr. Davis Construction and scheduled to open next July. It could eventually become a part of the consolidated Central Florida Expressway System that will include Orlando and its northern beltway system.
RS&H is FDOT's consulting engineer for the I-4 Ultimate project. Vice President Edward Gonzalez said the firm has a group the specializes in design-build projects and is definitely "looking for an opportunity to team up with OCX."
The RFLOI is the first of a 3-step bidding process for the beltway. After evaluating the letters of interest, OCX will publish a Request for Qualifications and then invite qualified groups to submit formal proposals. "We're going to do that bing bang boom," Mercer said.
Jones said the advantage of waiting until 2016 to start the process is that it gives the authority time to make further progress on the Preliminary Development and Environmental study (PD&E) for the Southport Connector and to select the preferred alignment for the eastern segment of the Osceola Parkway Extension.
The public got its first look at three options to extend the Osceola Parkway east 12 miles and connect to SR 417 near OIA. Two options run through a nature preserve and other impacts homesites in the Narcoossee area.
Mercer said that in the meantime, Deseret Ranch and the developers of Harmony will conduct their own route studies for the future Northeast Connector, the 25-mile segment that eventually will link Southport to Osceola Parkway.
"We ain't paying for it. They're paying for it," Mercer said. "The reason why they're doing it is because it's in their best interest to do it."
The hope is that if the major landowners have a role in selecting the preferred alignment, they'll donate the right-of-way for the project.