BOSTON -- The Rhode Island Port Authority said it could issue upwards of $3 billion in bonds over the next 10 years for the revitalization of the Quonset Point-Davisville naval bases.

The authority plans to make the property one of the largest contiguous parcels of land on the eastern seaboard with a deep water port.

If built as currently planned, the port would be the largest in North America. And if approved by the Port Authority's board of directors, construction of the new port would be the single-largest economic development project in New England's history, according to a source involved in the planning of the project.

But a decision about how and when the bonds would be sold for this project is still a few years away, the source said.

Authority officials said the project would be installed in five phases over a 10-year period, and work on the first phase has already begun.

The first phase, set to take about three years, involves project design work and studies needed to obtain federal, state, and local licenses.

The Port Authority has already secured the Quonset Point portion of the property, and the Davisville portion will be secured during the early part of 1995, according to an executive summary of the project obtained by The Bond Buyer.

The properties are located on the west coast of the Narragansett Bay between Wickford and East Greenwich, R.I.

With the properties for the project secured, the authority sent out a request for proposal for the project.

The port announced they plan to dredge the existing canal to allow the heaviest of cargo vessels to pass through, add 30 new berths, install 43 miles of new rail lines, extend the existing 8,000-foot runway to 10,000 feet, and construct a four-lane highway to link the port to Route 95.

The plan to dredge the canal would allow ships with a 55-foot width to pass through. New York and Boston's ports only allow for the passage of 35-foot and 40-foot ships.

In addition, the plan calls for millions of square feet of warehouse buildings, light assembly facilities, and other manufacturing facilities to be built around the new port.

Authority officials said that once this port is completed, it will be the only fully integrated port on the eastern seaboard that has access to all forms of transportation.

In response to the request for proposal, a consortium of five firms were named by the authority to provide financing, construction, and engineering package for the project.

The consortium, called QPD Intermodal Inc., comprises Bechtel Corp., an engineering firm that will manage the construction; the Rotterdam Maritime Group, port manager for the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, one of the largest and most successful ports in the world; Sasaki Associates, a large landplanning firm; Deloitte & Touche, a firm that will manage accounting, tax, and management questions for the project; and Lehman Brothers, which will structure and sell the bonds for the project.

Officials at the port said the project will create 1,500 new construction jobs, over 100,000 permanent new jobs, and significantly lessen Rhode Island's unemployment problem.

Once licenses and permits are obtained, the authority will begin phase two of the project, slated to cost about $940 million.

This part of the project will dredge the approach channel and harbor to 55 feet and create 780 new acres for development around the harbor. The second phase will begin once several long-term contracts with shippers can be established to secure the issuance of bonds.

Phases three through five consist of the construction of the infrastructure around the harbor, as well as construction of rail lines, buildings, and utilities.

The projects in the last three phases are expected to take about five years to complete and cost around $2 billion. The financing for this construction will be undertaken once several long-term contracts are established with container handling companies.

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