The Florida Dept. of Transportation has hired a team of Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB Corp. and Wilbur Smith Associates of Columbia, S.C., to serve as program managers for its Florida Rail Enterprise. The FRE is the newly launched agency that will oversee Florida's development of inter-city high-speed rail service.

Nazih Haddad, FRE’s chief operating officer, said HNTB and WSA will assist the agency’s staff on an ongoing basis in developing the state’s HSR program. The two companies had previously worked together as general consultants to the state in its long-term efforts to study and eventually develop high-speed passenger rail service.

The state of Florida recently received approximately $1.25 billion in federal funds for its HSR project connecting Tampa, Orlando and Miami. The first leg of that effort, an approximately $2.5-billion HSR line between Tampa and Orlando, will be the initial focus of the HNTB, WSA team. Florida’s approved project includes a second phase that would extend the system to Miami. The recent federal funding included monies for initial planning for the Miami leg.

According to a company press release, the HNTB/WSA team will provide “overall program support and oversight for planning, design, public outreach, vehicle and systems integration, operations, construction, project controls and procurement of all contracts on the Florida high-speed rail program.”

Haddad told Southeast Construction that the FRE is working to advance the design of the Tampa-Orlando project to roughly 30%, in advance of soliciting bids. He said design is currently at about 8%.

Haddad further stated that the agency is still reviewing its procurement options for the Tampa-Orlando leg, with both design-build and PPP-based design-build-finance-operate-maintain contracts as possible approaches.

FDOT and FRE are still in negotiations with the Federal Railroad Administration about further funding for Florida’s HSR project. Haddad has said that the state needs additional federal funding to move forward with the Tampa-Orlando project. He told Southeast Construction in late March that FRA is working “very cooperatively” and with “a lot of enthusiasm” about Florida’s pending project.

The agency is also in negotiations with the FRA about project milestones. Haddad said he expects the two entities to agree upon a “statement of work” within the next few weeks.