Colorado Transportation Commission gives final approval on US 36 contract with Plenary Roads

DENVER - The Colorado Transportation Commission on Thursday approved a public-private partnership to extend toll lanes on U.S. Highway 36 -- despite receiving 20,000 public signatures urging lawmakers to strip CDOT of the power to sign such partnerships.

All that's left is for state officials to ink the contract authorizing a private consortium, Plenary Roads Denver, to operate the toll roads and maintenance on the Denver-to-Boulder highway for 50 years.

CDOT officials say the contract could be signed next week.

On Wednesday, CDOT's High Performance Transportation Enterprise Board unanimously agreed to move forward with the contract. The board approved resolutions addressing the U.S. 36 concession financial closure documentation, the bond documents and Phase 1 documents.

Karen Hammer says she is against the partnership and was hauled out of the meeting Wednesday when she voiced her concerns.

On Thursday, she was allowed to speak against the 50-year deal and asked why the board could not take a few more weeks to get it right.

"Fifty years from now, no one's going to remember whether it took another 60 days or whether it took another X amount of time," said Hammer.

Commissioner Heather Barry acknowledged a lack of transparency in the process.

"Did we miss the boat a little bit in not working with the community as best we could have? Probably," said Barry. "We need to be more transparent. We need to be more aware of how to better communicate with our constituents -- with the citizens of the state of Colorado."

Barry went on to say that the HPTE did not have the right to withhold the contract.

"We just need to do it better. We just need to do it a lot better and we will," she said.

A group called the Drive Sunshine Institute told 7NEWS it still plans to file suit against CDOT to try to stop the deal.

-- U.S. 36 project history

The US 36 project began in 2003 with an Environmental Impact Statement process that included intense and lengthy participation from local governments and incorporated hundreds of public comments from numerous public meetings.

The US 36 Express Lanes Project -- a new express lane for bus rapid transit, carpool vehicles and tolled vehicles, as well as the reconstruction of existing general purpose lanes and the replacement of many aging bridges and a bikeway -- is the result of that process.

Phase I of the US 36 project is currently under construction and will be opened by spring 2015. CDOT says phase II of the project will be executed through the public-private partnership with Plenary Roads Denver, which was chosen in April as the concessionaire for the project after a two-phase competitive big process.

CDOT signed a contract with Plenary in June and will close with the company at the end of the month.

CDOT said it is leasing U.S. 36 to Plenary for a half-century because it can't afford to do the reconstruction itself. The toll lanes will be operated by Plenary. Once the company makes its money back from the construction, CDOT will start to collect 50 percent of the toll revenue.

As 7NEWS first reported in April, the toll lanes will be changing and no will longer be free unless you have three or more occupants in the vehicle. That change will affect all state toll roads by 2017.

As part of the contract, Plenary will also provide the maintenance and snow removal on all of U.S. 36. To do the maintenance, CDOT will pay Plenary $675,000 each year. To provide snow and ice removal on the entire highway, CDOT will pay up to $458,000 each year.

CDOT can also penalize Plenary for not completing maintenance or providing proper snow and ice removal.

See the contract here: http://ch7ne.ws/1g5txi1.

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