While growing up, Loreen Bobo learned from her engineer father that engineers solve problems and improve our quality of life. Now, after 16 years of rising through the Florida Department of Transportation’s engineering ranks, she is leading the effort to fix one of Florida’s biggest transportation problems: the massive congestion that builds on the 21-mile stretch of Interstate 4 through Orlando. FDOT chose a Skanska-led consortium – I-4 Mobility Partners – to undertake the solution, called the I-4 Ultimate. This public-private partnership includes a $2.3 billion design-build contract, plus financing, operations and maintenance responsibilities. Bobo – FDOT’s I-4 Ultimate construction program manager – spoke with us about her priorities and the Envision sustainable infrastructure certification system.
What is most important to you on a project?
I’m always aware that I’m working for the public, and this thinking affects how I look at every aspect of a project. For example, are the maintenance of traffic arrangements easy for drivers to navigate? Are we keeping people informed about the work that’s going on, or that’s about to commence? Are we working in the most efficient ways possible to reduce our disturbances? And are we following through on our commitments? These were some of the things we had in mind when writing the I-4 Ultimate request for proposals. During I-4’s construction, we’re keeping all existing traffic lanes open because people are still going to work, they’re still picking up kids at school – they’re going about their lives. We want people to know this project is happening, this is what we’re doing, this is how it’s going to affect you, and that it’s going to be great when we’re done.
How are you defining success on I-4?
Certainly there are performance measures for budget, schedule and small business subcontracting goals. It’s also worthwhile recognizing that this project would take us 27 years to complete using traditional funding mechanisms. By taking the PPP route, it will be done in six-and-a-half years. So to me, we’ve already been successful: we’re churning out design sets and as of August we’re seven months into construction and privatized operations and maintenance.
What is a key PPP best practice from which other states might benefit?
States should know that they don’t have to start from scratch on a PPP – there’s a lot of good information out there. To develop the I-4 RFP, we spoke with colleagues at other major Florida transportation PPPs that were underway. We asked: What has worked? What hasn’t worked? What would you change in your contract? What would you absolutely do again? We posed similar questions to transportation officials in Texas and Virginia – two other states leading in the use of PPPs – and also of officials in Canada, which is about 10 years ahead of the U.S. with PPPs. This was all extremely helpful, as you might think you’ve thought of every scenario, but no matter how good you are, there’s always another useful idea out there.
I-4 Ultimate is among the largest projects pursuing certification under the Envision civil infrastructure sustainability program. Do you foresee more FDOT projects using Envision?
There’s a lot of value in going through the Envision process. Envision helps you think outside the box, so I’m sharing it throughout my district. We need to do the right thing when it comes to the impact we are making on our future, and doing the right thing can start by having the conversation early in the project. I hope to see Envision used on more FDOT projects – the sooner the better.