Florida roads soon could be up for bid

| 9/13/2007

In hopes of plugging a $1.1 billion hole in the state budget, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he is considering turning some highways over to private groups.

“I don’t know if it’s good or bad at this point, but I think it’s important to continue to be innovative,” Crist told The Associated Press.

Privatization of certain roadways in Florida is being considered to help rebalance the state’s $71 billion budget. State officials say the shortfall is because of lower tax revenue caused mainly by a slump in the housing market.

Legislators could meet for a special session on the budget crunch as early as October.

Crist signed a bill into law this spring allowing the Florida Department of Transportation to lease most toll roads in the state to private groups.

The leasing provision was included in a far-reaching transportation bill that applies to any existing toll facilities in the state’s highway system, except the Florida Turnpike. It also allows private groups to build and operate new roads.

Regular toll increases are allowed on all “pay-as-you-go” routes, including the turnpike, to keep pace with inflation. Tolling authorities also could raise the fees beyond that at their discretion.

Leases would be limited to 50 years, though the new law does leave room for the possibility of extending those agreements to 75 years or more.

An analysis of the effort estimated that leasing Alligator Alley could be worth $3 billion for the state. The Pinellas Bayway could bring in $6 billion while the Sunshine Skyway could raise $8.2 billion.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor