Residents push back against U.S. 36 toll lanes in Colorado

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/13/2014

Colorado residents have shown up in droves to oppose a public-private partnership involving tolled express lanes on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder. A group of lawmakers have even accused the Colorado Department of Transportation of being secretive about the contract that would allow a private operator to keep the toll revenue for 50 years.

The first of two public meetings on Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Westminster, Colo., was a packed house. The same was expected Thursday in Louisville, Colo.

Local media reported that residents were shouting, booing and calling out officials during the first session.

CDOT hosted the meetings in an attempt to answer the public’s questions. Residents went to the microphone to demand to see the contract before it is finalized.

“This contract will be public record once we reach financial close on the contract,” a CDOT official told the crowd, as reported by KDVR out of Denver. CDOT’s comment was met with boos and loud shouts from the audience.

CDOT selected private builder and toll-lane operator Plenary Group in April 2013. The controversial contract is actually Phase 2 of the project, and it will cost $425 million. Phase 1 of the deal is already underway. Both will open in 2015.

The overall project calls for the addition of tolled express lanes on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder plus wider shoulders to accommodate rapid-transit buses.

A group of 14 lawmakers sent a letter to CDOT at the end of January to request an additional 60 days of review before the Phase 2 contract is signed. The letter accuses CDOT of acting in secret to finalize the contract without much in the way of public review.

“Entering into a secret 50-year toll lane contract will have a lasting impact on the region and Coloradans who use the road,” the lawmakers stated. “Legislators and citizens alike should know the contract terms before it is signed including time frames, restrictions on carpools and transit, toll maximums and escalators, compensation events, non-compete agreements, and guarantees.”

CDOT plans to ink the Phase 2 deal with Plenary Group within the next week or two, according to reports from Wednesday’s public meeting.

Transportation officials say the lanes are necessary to relieve congestion and that without tolls, the project would take an extra 20 years to complete.

See related story:
Tolled express lanes planned for U.S. 36, Denver to Boulder

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