Boulder Turnpike privatization plan rips off Colorado, says advocate behind lawsuit
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.
Photos and more below.
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.
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."
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.