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FDOT Takes Fast Lane in Pursuit of Innovation

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On June 5, 2013, the Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT) officially short-listed four firms for its latest major public-private partnership (P3) project—the $2.1-billion planned redo of Orlando's main interstate highway. Dubbed I-4 Ultimate, it is similar in scope to Florida's first P3, the $1.8-billion Interstate 595 Corridor project in South Florida. But the 21-mile-long Orlando project is massive in its own right, including 56 new bridges, 71 replacement bridges, the reconstruction of 15 major interchanges and the construction of new managed lanes for the length of the job.

Photo by Daniel Azoulay
At the $1-billion Port of Miami tunnel project, crews place concrete in one of the twin tunnels now nearing completion.
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Proposers were unfazed by the requirement that they provide roughly $1 billion in financing for the project. Seven entities bid the job. Just as important as the equity stake, the four short-listed groups "brought some innovative ideas," says Loreen Bobo, construction program manager for FDOT.

The overall effort, from procurement through construction, has caught the eye of the nation's transportation industry. "It's being watched by many," says Bobo, adding that numerous state transportation agencies have sought to review Florida's requests for proposals.

The strong industry response to this complex reconstruction—expected to take six-and-a-half years to complete—of a stretch of interstate that most frustrates motorists, reflects the reputation that FDOT has built for itself, especially since starting down the P3 path.

"FDOT has been a leader nationally in executing P3s and making them a reality," says Joe Debs, a senior vice president with engineer RS&H, which serves as owner's representative for I-4 Ultimate. "They've learned to leverage, [better than] any state that I'm aware of, public-sector as well as private-sector dollars."

This progress in moving ahead with its latest P3 project was just one of the agency's major achievements in 2013. Collectively, they have earned the Florida Dept. of Transportation recognition as ENR Southeast Owner of the Year.

Speeding Up

FDOT achieved several other notable feats in 2013. I-595 Express headed toward completion, on time and on budget. The contractor leading the uniquely challenging $1-billion Port of Miami Tunnel project—yet another P3—successfully completed complex twin tunnels without a hitch. And the long-stalled $1.7-billion Wekiva Parkway project, in Central Florida, finally began construction.

Ananth Prasad, the transportation secretary who became chief in 2011, has been a driving force behind FDOT's latest surge of achievements. Recognized earlier this year as an ENR Newsmaker, Prasad stands out for his get-it-done approach, says Robert Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders' Association in Tallahassee.

"Ananth has a lot more (appreciation) of the importance of achieving a goal than following a process," Burleson says. "He's not so tied into a process that he keeps himself from getting to the goal. He understands how to get a job done."

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