MARCO ISLAND — If there’s any positive to the downturn in the economy, it may be for those who oppose leasing Alligator Alley.
The Florida Department of Transportation is extending the proposal due date from May 8 to May 18 for Alligator Alley lease bidders to finalize their negotiations with lenders.
The proposals for a public-private partnership to lease, maintain, operate and receive toll revenues from Alligator Alley may be slowed down due to lending and economic issues. At least one bidder dropped out citing those reasons, while another went bankrupt.
“This additional time allows proposers to complete their proposals,” wrote Pamela Griffis, FDOT’s deputy communications director in Tallahassee, in a prepared release Friday.
The bid opening previously scheduled for May 11 is canceled. FDOT will schedule another public meeting to announce the results of the solicitation process for Alligator Alley, which is a section of Interstate 75 connecting Naples to the southeastern coastal area of Weston.
FDOT has been pushing to privatize the 78-mile toll road across the Everglades to raise up-front money that cannot be generated from tolls to pay for other transportation needs in the state.
There were originally eight bidders vying for the Alligator Alley lease and at least one of the foreign investors, VINCI Concessions, notified state officials in March that it would no longer submit a bid because of deteriorating economic conditions.
The only American company that made the short list of bidders was the investment bank Lehman Brothers, which went belly up in September 2008.
The state’s proposed tolls for Alligator Alley include a 50 percent hike upon privatization to bring the toll up to $3.75, or $3 if using the SunPass. Smaller additional hikes have been set annually.
Warren Walker, a Naples resident who says he travels “the alley” frequently for personal trips and travels between Marco, Naples, Fort Myers and Florida’s East Coast as a driver with the transportation company Alligator Alley Express, said he doesn’t like any part of the proposal thus far.
“If Governor Charlie Crist allows this to happen, after hearing all the citizens say they don’t want this to happen, then we need to kick him out, since he is not working for us,” Walker said to the Eagle Monday.
According to a Naples Daily News poll, 86 percent of 1,230 online readers said they do not want to see Alligator Alley leased to a company.
About 8 percent supported the lease idea.
Bills to put a two-year moratorium on road deals with foreign investors, such as the 50 to 75 year lease of Alligator Alley, are not making it through the Florida Legislature. Separate bills to keep some of the money from the lease in Collier County didn’t make it through the committee hearings earlier in April either.
During 2007, Alligator Alley tolls produced approximately $23.5 million while operations and maintenance costs were approximately $6.1 million, FDOT reported.
More information about the Alligator Alley leasing proposal is available on an FDOT-managed Web site, alligator-alley.com.