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Alligator Alley Deal Falls Silent

A plan to lease Alligator Alley to private companies has run out of gas - at least temporarily - after a deadline passed Monday with no bids to take over the 78-mile stretch of road through the Everglades.

Following months of negotiations and more than a little controversy, the Florida Department of Transportation called off a public hearing that had been scheduled for May 29th after a 4 p.m. deadline elapsed without a single bid arriving to privatize the state-run toll road linking Naples to Fort Lauderdale.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, a vocal critic of the plan, hailed the development, saying it puts another nail in the coffin of a misguided plan that would pose homeland security issues while compromising the state’s revenue generating capacity in exchange for cash.

“This was a bad deal from the beginning,” Aronberg said. “It was concocted in secret and pushed through the process… It should never have gotten this far.”

In April 2008, the Florida Department of Transportation made public its intentions to put the alley up for lease as a way to generate revenue for the cash-strapped state.

Eight firms responded to the initial request for bids including companies from Spain, Italy and Portugal. The list was whittled down to six after additional requirements were imposed.

Originally set for December of last year, the initial deadline was repeatedly moved back as bidders felt the hit from a global credit meltdown that left them unable to obtain the financing needed to land such a deal.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers attempted unsuccessfully to prevent the deal by prohibiting the sale or lease of public roads to private companies headquartered outside the United States.

“Hopefully this is the death knell,” Aronberg said. “We should not be selling our existing roads to foreign companies. It’s a shame that millions in taxpayer money has already been spent.”

At least one consumer group lauded the deadline’s passing, saying the state should not turn state-run toll roads into profit-generating operations for private business.

“By privatizing roadways, officials hand over significant control over regional transportation policy to individuals who are accountable to their shareholders rather than the public,’ said Brad Ashwell, of the Florida Public Interest Research Group. “The public should retain control over decisions about transportation planning and management.”

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