Colorado bill would restrict private toll roads

| 2/14/2007

A Colorado state lawmaker wants to limit the powers of the private sector and the state DOT when it comes to building and operating toll roads.

Rep. Marsha Looper, D-Calhan, has introduced a bill into the Colorado General Assembly that would restrict the use of eminent domain by private road builders and the state's Department of Transportation.

The bill is set for a Transportation and Energy Committee hearing Thursday, Feb. 15. The hearing is open to the public and is scheduled in the old Colorado Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol.

Looper's bill would require the Colorado DOT to adhere to long-term plans for roads initiated by metropolitan and regional planning organizations. Under the bill, neither private companies nor the state DOT could use eminent domain to acquire land for a toll road unless that road was included in regional road planning.

A case in point is the proposed Prairie Falcon Parkway Express - which until recent months was referred to as the Super Slab.

In 2006, private developer Ray Wells sent letters to hundreds of property owners along the proposed Super Slab route informing them of his intent to build the toll road. The letter informed property owners they could either sell to him or the state would acquire their land through eminent domain.

That got up the ire of residents and lawmakers like Looper, whose bill seeks to restrict the powers of developers and the state regarding land use.

"There is no reason to build the Super Slab and displace thousands of Coloradoans," Looper states on her Web site.

The bill would require that private developers of toll roads first acquire a minimum of 80 percent of the proposed rights of way before the state could initiate the use of eminent domain - and only then if the road was included in long-term regional plans.

Wells has proposed the 210-mile Prairie Falcon Parkway Express toll road and multi-modal corridor run through seven counties: Adams, Arapahoe, Elbert, El Paso, Pueblo, Larimer and Weld.

"The project includes a four-lane, median-divided toll road, rail, utilities, and associated service areas and right of way," Wells states on the parkway's Web site.

The developer cites a 19th-century law that allows private developers to use eminent domain for roadways. Wells originally filed his intent to build the Super Slab in 1986.

"This project is contemplated as a public-private partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Prairie Falcon Parkway Express Company," he wrote.

The House hearing on Looper's bill, HB1068, will be conducted by the Colorado House Transportation and Energy Committee, following the daily House floor session Thursday. A House spokeswoman said the hearing is likely to begin between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and Looper's bill is third on the committee agenda.

To hear the live audio online, click here the day of the meeting and then click on "Old Supreme Court Chambers."

- By David Tanner, staff writer