LOS ANGELES -- Washington State's effort to spur public-private transportation initiatives moved forward last month when the state's transportation department selected six proposed projects.

The six public-private projects, which represent $2.1 billion in improvements, were chosen from a list of 14 projects that had been submitted by 11 separate entities. More than 300 requests for proposals were distributed.

Washington is among a handful of states pursuing private-public transportation projects, in which governments help finance projects constructed by private developers.

The statutory framework for pursuing the public-private program was approved by the state's legislature in 1993. The so-called New Partners: Public Private Initiatives in Transportation Program is being closely watched by public finance market participants nationally.

Last March, Gov. Mike Lowry signed into law a bill that authorizes the transportation department to issue $25 million of general obligation bonds to capitalize a fund for the public-private transportation initiatives.

Jerry Ellis, director of economic development for the transportation department, said the legislature will be asked to appropriate the money when it meets in January. She said the proceeds will be used either for cash contributions and grants or a revolving loan fund.

The projects are all located in the Seattle-Tacoma area. One would add single-level parking decks above 23 King County park-and-ride lots, funded by $2 daily parking fees. Three would add new highway capacity and two would add bridge capacity, all funded by tolls.

The selection of the six projects allows private firms to enter into negotiations with the transportation department for a franchise agreement, Ellis said.

"We anticipate beginning the negotiation of agreements by the first of October and concluding them by mid-January," she said.

At that point, the department "could award franchise agreements to all six, none of the six, or any combination of the six," said Pat Clancy, a managing director for Public Financial Management Inc., an independent financial advisory firm retained by the department to evaluate proposals.

Once the franchise agreements are awarded, the project planners can begin environmental reports and other steps that precede actual groundbreaking.

Ellis said two of the project proposals envision using long-term tax-exempt debt issuance through the creation of nonprofit organizations. They are the State Route 522 corridor improvements, which are estimated to cost $155 million for phase one, and the State Route 520/Evergreen Point Floating Bridge improvements, a $440 million project.

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