Colorado Senate approves rules for public-private partnerships

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/2/2014

A late push at the Colorado statehouse would place new rules on public-private partnership deals for highway projects.

The Senate voted 20-15 on Wednesday, April 30, to send a bill to the House that covers the partnerships, commonly referred to as P3s. Specifically, SB197 would increase disclosures, oversight and public input.

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 SB197 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 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.

OOIDA director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said anytime the private sector is coming into play 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 bill is scheduled for consideration in the House Transportation and Energy Committee on Friday afternoon. However, time is running out to get the bill through the statehouse. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Wednesday, May 7.

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