Will taxpayers be on the hook for overhaul of Interstate 4? - FOX 35 News Orlando

Will taxpayers be on the hook for overhaul of Interstate 4?

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Through a method known as "conduit" financing, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is asking three Metro Orlando counties to obtain tax-exempt bonds for a private company that will overhaul Interstate 4 from Kirkman Road to State Road 434.

Under the plan, Orlando, Orange and Seminole counties would secure up to $1.5 billion in bonds and largely turn over the proceeds to that company, selected by the state, which would then pay the money back with tolls.

Seminole County commissioners have agreed to work with the state on the plan.  Tuesday, the Florida Department of Transportation met with Orange County Commissioners, urging them to get board. 

"We've got to make sure that if we are going to use this alternative method, this flow through conduit financing, that we are going to protect the taxpayers," said Commissioner Fred Brummer.

FDOT wants Orange County to agree by June fourth to sell the bonds.  Brummer added, "There is a huge amount of pressure on us and a limited time span for us to learn enough, whether or not we can support this issue."

FDOT insists local governments would not have to pay back the bond money if the private company defaults. Florida law limits FDOT's ability to issue bonds, so it needs help from local governments.

"We need them to sign on the dotted line, not assuming the risk, but helping us move this project forward," said FDOT spokesman Steve Olson.

FDOT officials have estimated that, without such a financing plan, it would take 20 years for the agency to come up with the money to pay for the project on its own.

Tuesday, FDOT narrowed down the list of private companies bidding on the project from seven down to four companies.  The winning company will be selected within one year.

If approved, work could begin in late 2014 or 2015 and be complete in 2020.

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