Colorado lawmakers approve new rules for public-private partnerships

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/28/2014

A bill on the Colorado governor’s desk would place new rules on public-private partnership deals for highway projects.

House lawmakers voted 35-29 to approve a bill that covers the partnerships, commonly referred to as P3’s. Specifically, SB197 would increase disclosures, oversight and public input.

The bill has been sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk. Senate lawmakers already approved it on a 20-15 vote.

The effort follows a deal early this year between the Colorado Department of Transportation and an Australian-based company, Plenary Group, for a portion of U.S. 36. The 50-year, $425 million deal calls for widening the highway between Boulder and Denver and adding a toll lane in each direction.

Critics of the deal said it was done secretly with little public input.

To help guard against similar actions in the future, one provision in the bill would require public and legislative “check-ins,” including town hall meetings.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said the public deserves to know what’s happening with their highways.

“The controversy that arose around the U.S. 36 private-public partnership opened a lot of eyes to the need for more transparency,” Jones said in a recent news release. “This bill makes sure everyone has a chance to review details and weigh in while these expensive, long-term deals are developed.”

Jones’ bill would also limit P3 deals to 35 years. Any effort for a longer lease term would need legislative approval.

Local governments would also be involved in the process.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA director of Legislative Affairs, said any time the private sector is involved with public infrastructure it’s important that the public interest is protected.

“The fact the legislation lays out requirements for the development of any deal between the state and a private entity is just good common sense,” Bowley said. “It provides good and necessary protections for highway users.”

The governor can sign the bill, veto it, or allow the bill to become law without his signature. The deadline to act is June 6.

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