Wekiva Parkway- Deal Reached


The Orlando expressway authority completed a historic Monday on two fronts by reaching a tentative deal with the state to construct the $1.8 billion Wekiva Parkway and forcing embattled executive director Mike Snyder to quit.

The Wekiva agreement, possibly a month or two from being final, could lead to a groundbreaking next fall on the 25-mile toll road that would complete the beltway around Metro Orlando. Construction would be complete by 2021.

During a meeting of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, the five-member board agreed to accept Snyder’s retirement effective Dec. 29. He will receive three months’ severance, or nearly $82,000, and could get more than $70,000 annually from a state-backed pension.

He said he does not have another job lined up and intends to spend more time with his family.

“We’ll see what the future holds,” Snyder said.

The state and the authority have struggled for months to come up with a way to finance the long-coveted parkway, which would cut through northwest Orange, south Lake and east Seminole counties.

A breakthrough came during the weekend, when Snyder and Florida Department of Transportation officials decided the Orlando agency would build and own about six miles in Orange and a short stretch in Lake, while the state would be responsible for the remaining 18 to 19 miles.

Key to the arrangement was the authority agreeing to pay nearly $230 million it owes FDOT during the next 12 years. FDOT had been loaning the authority between $8 million and $10 million annually during the past quarter-century for operating and maintaining some tollbooths and portions of toll roads owned by the state.

“It’s a very favorable agreement. It will be tweaked a bit,” said expressway Chairman Walter Ketcham.

FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said getting the authority to write a check for as much as $20 million annually through 2024 would allow the state to pay off the bonds it would sell to pay for the road, which is unlikely to attract enough traffic to pay for itself for three decades or more.

The deal is contingent on winning the approval of two transportation-planning organizations in Central Florida. Members of those groups, including MetroPlan of Orlando, want to know what road projects FDOT will be postponing in the region to pay for sections of the parkway that do not carry tolls.

Prasad said his agency is still “kind of reshuffling,” a list but predicted no road projects would be permanently shelved. Rather, he said, some might be delayed by a year or two.

FDOT, at the urging of state legislators, entered into talks with the authority this summer about building the parkway. A deal was supposed to have been reached in August, but talks foundered over which agency would own the road.

Snyder, who was named to the top post of the expressway authority in March 2004, has come under intense criticism from Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who joined the five-member board in January.

Jacobs had called for Snyder to quit because of the agency’s precarious finances and what she contends was misleading language about the true intent of a 2009 toll increase. She said she had few complaints about the roads that have been built under Snyder’s direction.

“It generally has to do with the financial condition we are in,” said Jacobs, referring to nearly $1 billion worth of variable-rate interest bonds that are swapped weekly and faltering because of the weak economy.

She proposed replacing Snyder for three or four months with deputy Orange County comptroller Jim Moye, who has considerable financial expertise. The board didn’t vote on that and likely will meet again after Thanksgiving to discuss Moye or other possible substitutes.

Last week, Snyder offered to quit on March 7, his 65th birthday. But he said he moved that up to Dec. 29 because that was the date Jacobs initially suggested and the board appeared to support.

Jacobs maintains that Snyder portrayed a 25-cent toll hike in 2009 as the way to fully pay for the parkway. In reality, a series of future increases would be needed, too.

Last month, Jacobs issued a blistering 164-page report on agency finances and followed that up by calling for Snyder’s resignation. She blamed him for a decision by Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade the agency’s bond rating.

November 14, 2011|By Dan Tracy, Orlando Sentinel

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