Colorado bills seek toll road limits

| Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Colorado Senate panel has approved a bill that would ban private groups from exercising “eminent domain” to acquire private property to build a road. The effort is one of a handful of bills related to toll roads up for consideration by state lawmakers.

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill that would amend a 19th century state law that gives private businesses the authority to use eminent-domain condemnation procedures to acquire property within the right of way of a proposed toll highway.

The measure would give the Colorado Department of Transportation, not private groups, the power to condemn land for road projects. It also would allow developers to form partnerships with the state to allow private investment to build roads.

The bill – SB78 – now awaits a final vote before the full Senate. If approved, it would move to the House for further consideration.

This is the second go-around for the legislation. A similar bill was approved by the General Assembly a year ago before Gov. Bill Owens vetoed it and warned the state may need private toll roads in the future to pay for roadwork.

Supporters of the bill say a state law enacted in 1877 was not meant to solve 21st century transportation problems, the Denver Post reported.

Dan Hopkins, a spokesman for the governor, said the private investment component in this year’s version would increase its chances of passage.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, the bill is intended to halt a proposed 210-mile private toll road – dubbed the Super Slab – from being built on the plains of the Front Range.

The proposed $2 billion route would run from Wellington in northern Colorado to Pueblo in the south. A 12-mile-wide swath where the highway might go would be an eastern alternative to Interstate 25.

Other lawmakers are pursuing further limitations.

Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, has sponsored a bill that would create more state oversight of private toll-road projects. The bill would require private tolling companies to obtain approval from the Colorado Department of Transportation before moving forward with any plans.

Owens also vetoed a version of that bill last year.

A separate bill, offered by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, would bar the use of eminent domain powers to take land for the purpose of economic development.

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, is pursuing an amendment to the state constitution that would do the same thing. If approved, it would go before the public in a general election.

Another bill would prohibit non-compete agreements with toll road companies. Rep. Gwyn Green, D-Golden, said the bill is intended to prevent “gridlock by design,” which forces traffic onto toll roads.

Sponsored by Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, one other bill would require special districts to hold elections before eminent domain powers could be used.

Pommer’s bill – HB1003 – and Green’s bill – HB1116 – are in the House Transportation and Energy Committee. Gardner’s bill – HB1099 – and Hefley’s bill – HB1096 – are in the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.

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