Toll road restrictions OK'd in Colorado

| 6/6/2006

Gov. Bill Owens has signed a bill into law that could prove to be a major stumbling block to a toll road proposed for Colorado’s eastern plains.

The new law, previously SB78, bans private groups from using eminent domain to acquire private property to build a road.

Sponsored by Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, the new law amends a 19th century state law that gave private businesses the authority to use eminent domain to condemn and acquire property. The law was intended to promote road building to mining camps.

The new rule gives the Colorado Department of Transportation, not private groups, the power to condemn land for road projects. It also allows developers to form partnerships with the state to allow private investors to build roads.

In addition, proposed private toll roads will be required to go through the same environmental and public review process as any public roadway.

This was the second go-around for the legislation. A similar bill was approved by the General Assembly a year ago before the governor vetoed it and warned the state may need private money to pay for roadwork.

Dan Hopkins, a spokesman for the governor, said the private investment component in this year’s version was essential to the bill’s passage.

The bill initially was 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.

Another measure would regulate private toll roads. It would require groundbreaking on a toll route to begin within three years after incorporation, The Associated Press reported. It also would require that investors spends at least $500,000 or forfeit all rights.

In addition, the bill would reduce the right of way from 12 miles to three miles as well as require notice to be given to all local governments and forbid the condemning authority to commercially develop in that zone.

The bill – HB1003 – is awaiting Owens’ signature.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor