Five private sector teams have met with Virginia transportation officials to discuss the potential for financing the plan to add high-occupancy toll lanes along 25 miles of Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway.

Charles Kilpatrick, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, delivered a progress report on the talks at Wednesday’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond. Aubrey Layne, the state transportation commissioner, said he welcomed the potential for a private partner to share the multi-billion-dollar cost of the I-66 improvement program, but said the Virginia government also would keep open the option of a publicly financed project. “We’re going to continue the public option all the way through till we have a deal signed,” Layne said.

That’s a while off. A decision on financing will not be reached until next year. If the state keeps to its schedule, construction could begin in 2017, with completion about five years later.

The state is not yet at the point of seeking bids. VDOT officials and the handful of private firms that expressed interest are working out ideas that would lead to a formal request for bids.

What the parties are discussing now is VDOT’s draft of a “term sheet,” laying out the state’s goals for a potential deal with a private partner. These are a few highlights from that seven-page document.

Cost and design. The state believes its basic design of two HOT lanes and three regular lanes in each direction would cost about $2.1 billion. A private partner’s design would have to fall in that range, or better. Private innovations on the design would be acceptable, as long as they do impede the traffic flow projected in the state’s preliminary design.

Merging. The state expresses its interest in minimizing the points of potential congestion where traffic in the HOT lanes and in the regular lanes would come into contact. The goal is stated as, “minimization and preferably full elimination of entrance and exit from GP [general purpose] lanes back and forth to HOT lanes … Exit and entrance to HOT lanes will be by separate ramp, interchange, or other means achieving this end.”

Length of deal. The concession term, including the construction phase, would not exceed 40 years. That’s a couple of decades less than the deals for the 495 and 95 Express Lanes.

Financing. The project would be financed largely by the private partner, at its own risk. VDOT expects the maximum public contribution would be $600 million, to be provided during the construction phase.

Transit. The state envisions that a system of rapid buses would have access to the HOT lanes. The “concessionaire will be responsible for funding transit services to include, initial capital purchase of buses, capital for new and replacement vehicles over the term of the concession, and capital for operations and maintenance of the transit systems and programs. The concessionaire will not be responsible for procuring, operating and maintaining the systems and programs.” (The private partner would not be responsible for running the buses.)

Park & Ride. The private partner would be responsible for the design, construction and financing of Park & Ride facilities along I-66. These facilities would have direct or nearly direct access to the HOT lanes.

Tolling. The private partner would have the right to “establish, charge, collect, use and enforce the payment of tolls and related charges on the express lanes.” This matches the deal on the existing HOT lanes in Northern Virginia. The same style of all-electronic tolling would be used.

Competition. As with other HOT lanes deals, the state would agree to compensate its private partner if it creates certain transportation projects that compete for revenue with the express lanes operator. These are the forms of competition specified in the draft document: New general purpose lanes on I-66 within the project corridor (not including the use of shoulder lanes during peak periods), extension of the Orange Line within the corridor for the first 10 years of the lease. (As of now, there’s no credible plan to extend the Orange Line.)

The clause specifically rules out any compensation for “excessive HOV usage.” An unlimited percentage of carpoolers could use the express lanes toll-free without requiring the state to make up revenue lost by the private partner.