The recent controversy over Highway 36 may have implications for other areas, such as Northern Colorado, that are looking for funding through CDOT’s High-Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE). HPTE was created when the legislature passed the FASTER bill in 2009.
CDOT chose Plenary, a consortium made up of six companies with expertise ranging from finance to construction to road design, to complete the second phase of the $425 million U.S. 36 Managed Lanes project and maintain the entire corridor, including ice and snow removal, until 2063. The public-private partnership, which is being overseen by HPTE’s financing arm, also gives the firm maintenance responsibilities along Interstate 25, from U.S. 36 to downtown Denver.
Under the deal, Plenary Roads Denver would collect all revenues from the toll lanes currently being constructed in each direction of the turnpike. A group in Boulder called the Drive Sunshine Institute raised the first cry about the deal. Even conservative groups such as Compass Colorado joined the fray criticizing CDOT’s willingness to give a private company so much power and authority over public roads.
CDOT released the 600-page contract with Plenary for public review and then finalized the contract. Senator Matt Jones (District 17) just announced his intent to sponsor a bill that will require more “transparency” in future HPTE deals. Highway 36 is one of the first HPTE projects since FASTER passed four years ago. Hopefully CDOT will learn from the experience and allow for more public review in the future. But observers wonder if another bill is the answer or if more legislation will just make projects take more time and money to approve. It’s unclear if Jones has time to get his bill through the legislative session this year.