State bill calls for transparency of U.S. 36 toll lane expansion and public-private partnership

Lawmakers introduce bill after public outcry

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - Toll roads and public-private partnerships. Two things that ignited a firestorm of criticism this spring.

A new bill introduced Friday by state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, calls for more in-depth public review of any future expansion of Colorado highways.

This bill comes after a public outcry about how the expansion of U.S. 36 was handled.

Frustrations boiled over last month when the public caught wind of a 50-year contract between the Colorado Department of Transportation and an Australian-based company, Plenary Group, over the Boulder Turnpike toll-lane expansion project.

Lawmakers said there was a lack of public process.

The $425 million dollar expansion of the turnpike calls for the addition of a toll lane in each direction through a public-private partnership.

"We just don't have money in this state to fund transportation," said state Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada. "And we have a lot of serious transportation needs."

CDOT has said the project will be years ahead of schedule because of the public-private partnership to fund the widening. But the 50-year deal with Plenary outraged the public because it appeared to be done in secrecy without oversight from lawmakers.

"I think people were upset about two things: one is they were not aware of what the financing agreement was all about; the second is they did not see that the state legislature had a role," said Kraft-Tharp.

"By the time anyone figured out what was going on, it was really too late for anyone to have any meaningful input into the project," said state Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette.

The new bill would add new requirements to any future road expansion through public-private partnerships, including town hall meetings, legislative oversight and legislative approval for any deal more than 35 years.

"And have a meaningful process. Not just telling the public what's going on, but also taking questions and really considering what the public has to say," said Foote.

"The public wants to be educated," said Kraft-Tharp. "They want to be informed. They want to be involved."

Foote said he's still not sold on whether the deal with Plenary to expand the turnpike is a good one. So, in addition to this transparency bill, next Monday he plans to introduce another bill calling for an extensive audit of the U.S. 36 expansion project.

             

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