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Perdue's I-485 plan: Let builders finance construction

The end appears to be in sight for the final five miles of the on-again-off-again I-485 outer-belt project in Charlotte. Governor Bev Perdue announced yesterday the last stretch would be fast-tracked thanks to financing through a public-private partnership. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports. At last check, construction of the northern part of the I-485 loop was scheduled to start on 2015. Now, Governor Bev Perdue says, the project will be done in 2015. "We're gonna do more for less. That's big to me because we've got a lot of needs in North Carolina and we're going to do it faster," she says. "Faster is really important to the people of the Charlotte-metro area and it's also important to the people of North Carolina." Doing more for less means the state will use, it's highway trust fund, federal bonds that it will pay back with future federal funding. And, it will try out something it's never done before: Ask contractors to finance, design and build their portion of the project. Under the plan contractors would invest $50 million to finish the loop and build an interchange connector to it from I-85. (click here for Simone Orendain's explanation) State Transportation Secretary Gene Conti says this will bring much-needed jobs to contractors. "And we will pay them back over a 10 year period so really it's no- nothing that they have to put up other than what we will pay them back. So it's a way of getting things moving. We're taking advantage of the good economic climate for bidding," says Conti. The state will repay the contractors with interest. The North Carolina Concrete Pavement Association's executive director, Jerry Reece says the design-build-finance plan would benefit contractors who've been hurting from what he calls under-funding by the state. But Reece also says small contractors would have a hard time competing because they don't have the resources to finance projects. The outer-belt and interchange connection is projected to cost $340 million. Another piece that was tacked on, widening I-85 in Cabarrus County, would cost an additional $200 million. Officials say the state will seek bids for I-485 starting next week and they expect to award contracts in May.