Call it an early Christmas gift — for commuters and contractors.
New lanes on Interstate 75 are expected to be open for the holidays, eight months earlier than expected. Meanwhile, the contractors on the project could earn up to $15 million for finishing construction ahead of the contracted completion date.
If everything continues to go as well as it has gone, John Rinkenbaugh, communications manager for the I-75 road expansion project known as iROX, said they anticipate opening a 23-mile stretch of the 30-mile project from Colonial Boulevard to just north of Immokalee Road by the 2009 holiday season, no later than Santa’s arrival.
“That’s absolutely terrific,” said Mike Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “The sooner the highway is done and improved, the better it’s going to be for everybody who commutes regularly and visitors.”
The entire project, which will increase I-75 from four to six lanes between Colonial Boulevard in Lee County and Golden Gate Parkway in Collier County, is expected to be finished by April 2010, iROX contractors say. Last July, iROX officials said the project was 75 days ahead of schedule.
However, Rinkenbaugh said the opening date is subject to change.
Construction of a bridge on Immokalee Road and widening of the remaining 7 miles in Collier will still need to be completed after the 23-mile portion is opened, officials said.
The last scheduled opening date was slated for August 2010, which was already ahead of schedule from the original contracted completion date at the end of 2010.
Rinkenbaugh said a combination of good weather, employees working extended hours and great communication between all of the contractors led to the project moving so far ahead of schedule.
Since the project will be done earlier than expected, Rinkenbaugh said the state would save money. How much is still unknown.
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, the highway carries more than 100,000 motorists a day during the busy winter season.
Rinkenbaugh said officials aren’t concerned about a bottleneck of traffic on the 23-mile stretch that will be opened, as cars go from 3 lanes down to 2, because they believe the many bridges in Lee County will help relieve any pressure. However, in previous interviews with the Daily News, iROX officials said they didn’t want to open a portion of the project because they were concerned about traffic bottlenecking.
FDOT spokeswoman JoAnn May said it’s a tremendous benefit to local folks who travel the interstate routinely as well as seasonal residents who are on the interstate when traffic is at its heaviest. She added that it also brings a benefit to the economy because of commerce and industry trucks traveling regionally to delivery goods.
Funding for the project comes from the FDOT five-year work program, and the rest coming from $106 million in growth management funds, $4 million from the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, federal funds of $81 million and $16 million from Collier County. The total cost, $430.5 million, will be paid off by the department over five years.
It is being constructed through a design/build/finance concept, which allows contractors to build one section of road as another goes through the design stages.
The construction team named iROX is Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. in partnership with Ajax Paving Industries, HDR Engineering (design services) and Metric Engineering (for construction engineering and inspection services for FDOT).
Anderson Columbia Company Inc. and Ajax Paving Industries may earn a $15 million bonus for completing the project early. The incentive is $100,000 for every day ahead of the contract deadline, up to a maximum of $15 million, Rinkenbaugh said.
“We’ve been very fortunate so far because everything has gone very well,” he said.