Critics Heatedly Attack 50-Year Deal for Private Operation on Boulder Turnpike

Some are calling the deal "insane."

Thu March 20, 2014 - National Edition
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Critics heatedly attacked a 50-year deal Feb. 12 that would allow a private consortium to operate the main highway between Denver and Boulder, saying it will last too long and puts the public at risk.

The Colorado Department of Transportation called a public meeting amid widespread criticism of its proposed contract with the consortium, Plenary Roads.

Plenary would perform $425 million in construction to add toll lanes. The consortium would then collect all the tolls and maintain and plow the highway.

Two lanes in each direction would remain free.

About 250 people packed into a meeting room in Westminster, and many of the speakers denounced the deal, The Denver Post reported.

“Fifty years is an insane amount of time,’’ Mike Skirpan of Boulder said. “Where is our protection?’’

“You never, ever sell a public entity to a private interest,’’ said Denver-area resident William Johnson. “This is going to be a disaster.’’

CDOT defended the proposed contract, calling it “airtight’’ with provisions to protect residents and to allow the state to oversee the highway.

“We’ve got a good partner here,’’ said Michael Cheroutes, director of CDOT’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise, which will oversee the management of the highway.

CDOT said it would take 20 years before there would be enough public funding for such a project. The deal is expected to close by month’s end.

State Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said the lack of transparency on the CDOT-Plenary contract bothers him and he wants the information made public.

“Roughly 100,000 commuters travel the U.S. 36 corridor every day — many of them are my constituents,’’ said state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville. “My requests for a copy of this contract over the past several months has been denied. The taxpayers and fee payers funding this reconstruction project deserve to know what it contains.’’

Transportation Department spokeswoman Amy Ford has said parts of the proposed agreement are being kept secret because they contain proprietary financial information that the state has agreed needs to remain private.

Tolls would be capped at $14 each way for the duration of the contract, but Ford said it was unlikely they would reach the maximum.

“The likelihood we would get to that point is slim, and we expect tolls to be very similar to what they are today on the I-25 corridor, ranging from $4 to $6,’’ she said.

The Plenary Group, with offices in Australia, Singapore, Canada and the United States, referred all questions on the contract to CDOT.

A second meeting was scheduled in Louisville.

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