In what officials say is its largest contract award ever, the Florida Dept. of Transportation has selected a joint venture of Anderson Columbia Co. and Ajax Paving Industries Inc. to design, build and finance $430.4 million in improvements to Interstate 75 in Lee and Collier counties. The project calls for widening 30 miles of the interstate to six lanes and reconstruction of the interchange at Immokalee Road.

The joint venture is called ACCI/API. Anderson Columbia Co. is based in Lake City, Fla. and Ajax Paving Industries Inc. is based in Troy, Mi.

ACCI/API has partnered with HDR Inc., Omaha, for design. FDOT will execute the contract on April 23 and issue the notice to proceed May 16. Construction will begin on portions of the road while design continues on other segments.

FDOT expects groundbreaking later this year, with completion anticipated by the end of 2010. The team can earn $100,000 for each day it finishes early, up to a $15 million bonus for completing the work five months early.

ACCI/API will build the job in three years, but FDOT will pay for it over five years with state and federal dollars, including growth management revenue, money from the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, and funds from Collier County.

The entire project, including engineering and inspection work, comes to $469 million. The initial plan was to widen 35 miles of I-75, but current costs precluded that.

There has been some talk about tolling the new lanes to provide revenue for an expansion of I-75 to 10 lanes, which has been included in FDOT's long-range plans. It could cost upwards of $2 billion, says FDOT spokesperson Debbie Tower. FDOT has not committed to tolling the two new lanes just yet.

“What we have said consistently is we are building six lanes on I-75 and are committed that those lanes are free,” Tower said. “For the new fifth and sixth lanes to be tolled would require resolutions from both the Lee and Collier counties boards of county commissioners and a strong demonstration of public support for it.”

The Southwest Florida Expressway Authority, created by the legislature in 2005 to pursue increased capacity on I-75, hired Wilbur Smith Associates of Columbia, S.C., to evaluate the feasibility of tolling. Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise also assessed the situation. Both entities recommended tolling six lanes and keeping four lanes general use on the busiest segment, from Immokalee to Alico roads, says spokesperson Kris Cella. The cost is estimated at $900 million, with completion in 2014.

At its February meeting, the authority had considered requesting letters of interest from private entities that may have a desire to design, build, operate and maintain the four additional lanes but will hold off until it obtains results from a recently launched a public outreach campaign to gauge community support for tolling, says Amy Davies, spokesperson for Lee County Dept. of Transportation. She adds that the authority board would discuss in March whether it wants to build the additional four lanes, have the Turnpike construct them or seek a private-public partnership.