Boulder Turnpike privatization backer refutes most (but not all) of critic's claims
Earlier this week, we posted about criticism of the public-private Boulder Turnpike project from the Drive SunShine Institute, which hoped a lawsuit would stop final contracts from being signed. That seems unlikely, however. Last night, a Colorado Department of Transportation board unanimously voted to move forward with the pact, and the Colorado Transportation Commission is expected to add its blessing today. And a former Boulder official thinks that's a good thing for the most part.
Photos and more below.
"The privatization of U.S. 36 will present a large financial cost to Colorado taxpayers," DSI spokesman Ken Beitel told us for our Tuesday post. "Hundreds of millions of dollars in toll revenues on U.S. 36 will be drained out of Colorado to provide profits for Goldman Sachs and the Australian toll road developer the Plenary Group."
As we reported, Goldman Sachs is officially designated as the Colorado Department of Transportation's "financial adviser" on the project, while Plenary Roads Denver has agreed to pay approximately two-thirds of the cost for renovations to both the Boulder Turnpike and Interstate 25 in exchange for collecting all new tolls on U.S. 36 and the existing I-25 express lanes for fifty-year length of the contract, the most recent version of which we've shared below.
Beitel sees the agreement as a bad deal for a number of reasons. Among them, he claims that neighboring municipalities are forbidden from making road improvements without paying compensation to Plenary; that electric cars won't be able to use high-occupancy-vehicle lanes without a similar compensatory payment; and that a plan to start charging anyone using HOV lanes if their vehicles contain fewer than three people (up from two) will lead to greater pollution. Furthermore, he thinks suggestions that construction might have been delayed for twenty years without help from Plenary is "basically marketing propaganda."
Will Toor offers another take. Currently the director of the transportation program for the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Toor is a former Boulder mayor and longtime city council member who worked on U.S. 36 planning issues from 1999 until he was term-limited out of office early last year. In his view, "this is generally a really good contract, even though there are what I would characterize as relatively minor concerns around it."
Chief among the latter is the question of electric cars in HOV lanes, which could indeed raise the question of compensation if the State of Colorado decided to let more of the vehicles commute without charge as a way of promoting their purchase.
"The contract uses the existing program under legislation passed a decade ago," Toor points out. As such, "there are 2,000 alternative fuel or hybrid vehicles that are allowed toll-free access to HOV lanes -- and the contract memorializes that number. And it also says it can be a compensation event if that number goes above 2,000.
"That's the one element of the contract that I agree is problematic," he goes on. "I am very involved in working on electric-vehicle policy and advocating that incentives be expanded beyond 2,000. And certainly, I would not want to see a clause of that sort in any future contracts."
In contrast, Toor sees other assertions made by Beitel in our post as either dubious or, in at least one case, flatly incorrect.
Continue for more about the Boulder Turnpike project, including photos and two documents.