Boulder Turnpike privatization plan rips off Colorado, says advocate behind lawsuit

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Photos and more below.
Last July, we detailed a plan to privatize the Boulder Turnpike -- a deal the Colorado Department of Transportation supports under the theory that it will help finance U.S. 36 improvements much more quickly than if only public funds are used.

The folks with Boulder's Drive SunShine Institute couldn't disagree more. They're filing a lawsuit intended to block the contract and are organizing a protest tomorrow to sketch out the reasons they see it as a boondoggle in the making.

"The privatization of U.S. 36 will present a large financial cost to Colorado taxpayers," maintains Ken Beitel, clean energy analyst and DSI spokesman. "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 noted in our 2013 post, Goldman Sachs is officially designated as CDOT's "financial adviser," 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 the length of the contract -- fifty years.

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In addition, the toll lanes will eschew the common designation known as HOV2 -- meaning that vehicles can use high-occupancy lanes without charge if two people are riding in them -- in favor of a three-person requirement known as HOV3.

That sounds like a mighty sweet set-up for Plenary and Goldman Sachs. But in an interview last year, CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said Colorado drivers would benefit as well. She touted privatization on these routes as a practical way to speed up construction. "We would not have been able to construct the next phase" of U.S. 36 construction "for probably twenty years," she said.

This pitch doesn't convince Beitel, who sees other drawbacks beyond revenue issues.

"Privatization of Colorado highways means loss of public policy control for the highways," he allows. "For example, the U.S. 36 fifty-year contract states that vehicles with a driver and one passenger will have to pay tolls in the express lane during rush hour -- and the prices are estimated at from $10 to $28 for a round trip from Denver to Boulder. And the State of Colorado will never be able to change that.

"If we want to change it back from the new three-plus standard to two-plus, Colorado taxpayers would have to pay Plenary millions of dollars in compensation for the remainder of the fifty-year contract."

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In addition, he goes on, "if municipalities around U.S. 36, like Westminster and the Town of Superior, want to upgrade roads that impact toll revenue on U.S. 36, that would also be illegal unless compensation is paid."

Continue for more about the plan to privatize the Boulder Turnpike.


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69 comments
Peter_Fotopoulos
Peter_Fotopoulos

I see that Goldman Sachs is officially designated as CDOT's "financial adviser."


Perhaps Goldman will sell "Synthetic Collateralized HOV Toll Lane Obligations" or, better yet, "Synthetic High Income Toll Obligations" (SHITOs). They will then hedge their position with "Toll Lane Default Swaps."


This “deal” stinks to high Heaven...

philmeiklejohn
philmeiklejohn

And how did the roads ever get built in the first place then? All I keep hearing these days is we can't afford to maintain this or that. Well what paid for them the first time? I don't remember our taxes going down. No we pay a huge amount out of every single one of our paychecks and then for anything to get done they need MORE. MORE. How is it that everything taxes go up it covers one project and then it isn't enough to even maintain a bridge after that. I am tired of it, they do this to get more money. They threaten us with a toll road so that we will give them more taxes. I am done with it, you get an astronomical amount of taxes from Colorado taxpayers and I think I speak for everyone when I say that as I look at every dollar taken out of my paycheck to fund the government I expect road construction to be the number one thing handled with that money and yet it is the last. They piss our money away on ridiculous studies and every other complete waste of money that our government commits and then they have nothing left for roads. Every single Colorado politician needs to be taken out of office. Obviously you cannot handle manage the most basic of government responsibilities. It is completely ridiculous. We give you plenty of money to handle everything that we have now the problem is that you keep adding this and that million dollar pet project and where does it come from? Highway funds. And don't tell me it doesn't because it does one way or another. These people are absolute scum, they threaten our police officers and firefighters pensions, they threaten our highways, they threaten our schools. All so they can demand more money to maintain these things than they needed last year. I am done with it frankly, something needs to be done about these people and the complete and absolute corruption running throughout our government.

philmeiklejohn
philmeiklejohn

It will completely choke all side roads just like Northwest parkway did. There are ridiculous traffic jams on side roads because people won't pay the ridiculous toll on Northwest parkway and the city can't widen the side streets because it would compete with Northwest parkway's traffic and now you want to add the same problem with the only other highway to boulder. This will absolutely choke Boulder off from Denver.

Cognitive_Dissident
Cognitive_Dissident topcommenter

Just continue to let the state mismanage it. BTW, it should be called "corporatization." There will be nothing "private" about it.

Heather M Truhan
Heather M Truhan

Are legislators able to at least review the 50-year contract w/ GS + Plenary now before it is signed? Which legislators have reviewed it? While I understand what got us here, I think CDOT needs to pause and work with Coloradans toward a better solution that would benefit the state vs these out-of-state corporations?

Josh Bradley
Josh Bradley

Why praise? Any idea how much pollution is created making those precious "green" cars' power plants? Batteries aren't environmentally friendly. Know what happens when those battery banks die? Electric cars are not that great when you look at the production and full life cycle aspect...but marketing would have you believe they're Captain Planet's gift to mankind.

Ben Beeby
Ben Beeby

My only GIANT issue with this it the removal of HOV 2 from I25. That HOV lane was built with Federal Funds and should no way in hell be included in US 36 expansion. How in the hell did this happen. I am mad as hell. There is no way they should get a say in what happens on a damn Interstate highway. Whomever approved this deal should be fired, arrested and convicted of defrauding taxpayers.

Marvin Skagerberg
Marvin Skagerberg

Only toll road in history that once delivered on a promise to remove the toll when paid for. and now? seems like that original contract, legislation, whatever should still be binding.

Daniel Leonard
Daniel Leonard

I'm getting pretty angry with these stories on 36. Is any reporter going to sit down and explain why CDOT had to resort to privatization? There's all this talk in the comments but nothing in the articles about the tax increase that never made it to voters because legislators knew it wouldn't pass.

Sher Quintana
Sher Quintana

Electric cars should be praised not punished..thats just stupid..anti- productive..Boulder is greedy and full of snobs and they are not an Island!!!

JR Stradtner
JR Stradtner

This is what you call "highway robbery".

Evan Conroy
Evan Conroy

The heads of CDOT say it's a done deal and won't even let legislators see the contract. For their secrecy alone, they should be fired.

Mathew Woods
Mathew Woods

Bret, how does the Gallagher Amendment (property valuation and taxation) and Amendment 23 (education taxation) affect Highway 36? I am just trying to understand where you are coming from here, based on the subject matter of this article. When I say "WE" I mean we, the voters. Did you vote in favor of increasing taxes so that Highway 36 could get needed improvements? I am not saying you are guilty, personally. I am saying that the majority spoke when asked "should the people of Colorado pay for this expansion, or should we leave it to a corporation?"

Bret Egan
Bret Egan

I know/knew full well the implications of TABOR when I voted for it. Who is this WE you are writing about? Is it the same WE that voted for TABOR? You are willfully ignoring the other Colorado Constitutional Amendments that affect government spending, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23. Yes, I am guilty of making this an issue about Chickenlooper. Answer this: What has Chickenlooper said about this proposal? Nothing. Because that is who he is. He is a bartender, not a leader.

Mathew Woods
Mathew Woods

Eh, not trying to roast Bret. He is welcome to his opinion. But it is important to know that no one man and no one party was responsible for what is occurring with Highway 36. It takes a lot of idiots (and yes, Hickenlooper is included here) to push through huge projects like Highway 36. In the case of T-REX and Light Rail, we put our tax dollars behind the projects. In the case of Highway 36, we didn't, and now we have the ugly Certificates of Participation situation that we have today.

Mathew Woods
Mathew Woods

You probably do not even understand the implications of TABOR. Here, let me spell it out for you: It allows us, the tax payers, to vote down taxation initiatives, even if they are initiatives that supply money for regional infrastructure projects. And that is exactly what WE did in the case of Highway 36. Never mind that Hickenlooper took office 5 years AFTER the Highway 36 expansion project had been approved by Mayors and Councilmen along that coridor. You add nothing to this discussion.

Bret Egan
Bret Egan

LOL The Blame Tabor Gambit. Tabor is the only thing that has kept Colorado from becoming CA or IL or NY or NJ.

Mathew Woods
Mathew Woods

Again, Jeff, this is not a partisan problem. It is the result of votes from both sides, and the reshuffling of taxation laws back in the early 90s. Furthermore, we the tax payers voted down initiatives to provide funds to improve our infrastructure, thus we had to fall back on privatization. I find it ironic that the party of personal responsibility abandons the principles of their party (privatization of public infrastructure, reduction of taxation) when it suits them.

Jeff Dougan
Jeff Dougan

Unreal that @coloradodems would let the Boulder Turnpike deal go through.

Mathew Woods
Mathew Woods

BS, Bret. This problem started in 1992 with the TABOR initiative, and carried forward from 15 years ago through bipartisan votes by mayors in all jurisdictions along Highways 36, from both sides of the political line. Quit spewing transparent partisan nonsense.

Bret Egan
Bret Egan

I love all of the outrage on display! Your governor chickenlooper is behind this scheme.

Thomas Bonnett
Thomas Bonnett

there was a petition going around to try and stop this

Shaun Preiss
Shaun Preiss

The thought of Goldman Sachs owning our highways is beyond insane

Spin Louder
Spin Louder

wonder which politicians hands were greased to allow this to happen, vote them out

Lawrence Ferguson
Lawrence Ferguson

And its not good enuff for boulder thow .may be thay should fixs the roads the floods took out first then prove they desurve denver taxs and toll feed

Lawrence Ferguson
Lawrence Ferguson

Broadway here took 16 years to do just about if people in my area kept count of the years and its projects. Start at mississippi ave to evans a 8 mile streach of innercity road too 14-16years to do sad since it only took 20 years to do the hole highway from 92-01

Lawrence Ferguson
Lawrence Ferguson

Its rong. Since it deturs alturnative cars on the road .and money will be launderd instead of put to roads like it should. It should be a city crew projects only thing only or why pay a road tax on morages and gas fees. Since the road is a city .federal system not a mom and pop thing we pay enuff in property taxs roads and schools .and more

wilcolax
wilcolax

If Goldman Sachs wants to be involved you know the table is tilted in their direction. And overall I'm not opposed to the concept of a toll road, but why not have it state run? Why add guaranteed private vendor profits, over 50 years, to the mix? I still have not seen any reason why the state couldn't simply issue bonds for the project.


And Senator Matt Jones said he could have come up with $120 million if he had known about the issue. Why didn't he know about it? Was there a CDOT "streamlining" of info to...everyone else?


This project smells funny.

DougHubka
DougHubka

We will continue to have more of this as long as we keep listening to people like Doug Bruce, Jon Caldera and the TEA Party Patriots complaining about taxes.

There is no free lunch, either we are willing to raise taxes to pay for public highways or we would rather get screwed by private companies. Your choice

Pam Stiffler
Pam Stiffler

I think it's a crummy way for greedy dogs to get richer on the backs of our citizens...most of whom are traveling to actual jobs that allow them to EARN a living...

Abraham Ward
Abraham Ward

Nice, sell us out then tell us later. Government of the people huh?

Benjamin Roth
Benjamin Roth

They also want to force population to use their new light rail system that's taking years to build. Imposing traffic in the meantime.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

Passionate post, Ben. We're going to feature it as an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

Interesting point, Marvin. Thanks for posting.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

Strong words, Sher. Thanks for weighing in.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

Succinct and to the point. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, JR.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

There are definitely some strange bedfellows in this story, Shaun. Thanks for the post.

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