CDOT to hold public hearings on I-70 expansion in Denver; plan includes public/private partnership

Agency acknowledges some things not up for debate

DENVER - The Colorado Department of Transportation is holding a series of public hearings on its plans for Interstate-70 expansion through north Denver.

However, some question whether they'll make any difference when it comes to planning and paying to re-build the elevated portion of I-70.

CDOT acknowledges some things aren't up for debate. It says major projects are not possible without some type of public/private partnership.

Even so, CDOT said the public will have a voice this time around, unlike the transparency that was criticized with the expansion and addition of toll lanes on U.S. 36, the Boulder turnpike.

I-70 expansion includes a similar public/private partnership or P3, as U.S. 36.

The expansion would include 10 lanes, dropping the interstate below ground and putting a lid on it for a park.

Megan Castle, communications manager for CDOT's High Performance Transportation Enterprise, or HTPE, insists it will listen to the public this time.

"Absolutely. HPTE heard loud and clear that the public wants to be involved," said Castle.

But Castle admits CDOT already believes the only way to pay for a project of this size and scope is for a private company to help foot the bill for both construction and maintenance.

"It's beginning to look like another U.S. 36, public/private deal. A long-term deal," said state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.

Jones, a vocal opponent of CDOT's transparency during the U.S. 36 hearings, said it's clear CDOT has already made up its mind.

"The process has to be transparent. And CDOT has to be open to these ideas and changing their plan. Not just hold meetings, but have people be a part of the process," he said.

Jones suggests private money for construction, but public dollars for maintenance. He said CDOT has already proven it can manage and maintain projects well.

"These are the public's roads," said Jones. "They should have a say in how they're managed."

Castle said on large scale projects like I-70, maintaining the road after it is built is done by the private company that helps build it. She said P3's are essential for this project, which wouldn't be possible without a partnership.

"We would not be able to even endeavor on this project," she said. "It simply wouldn't happen."

State lawmakers gave CDOT the authority to solicit private financing because the state doesn't have the money.

The next public hearing on this issue will be Wednesday, August 20 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Swansea Elementary School at 4650 Columbine Street in Denver.

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Watch CDOT's Video "I-70 East - What's Next" for more on the potential P3 models it's considering: 

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