Angry residents voice concerns about public-private deal for US 36 tolls

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WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- It was a heated public meeting in Westminster Wednesday night where the Colorado Department of Transportation held a public meeting just days before it finalizes a controversial contract for privatization of toll lanes and maintenance of U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder.

Those questions were on the minds of a standing room only crowd made up of lots of angry residents who attended the first of two public meetings Wednesday night.

Officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) defended the terms of a private, 50-year contract involving the highway at the meeting in Westminster. The second meeting is Thursday at the Louisville Recreation Center.

"This is a meeting that should've been held 18 months ago, so what do we do?" one man told CDOT. Another said "I would actually not like to give something up until I'm almost 80."

Plenary Roads Denver is the private company that CDOT contracted to complete the second phase of a $425 million plan to renovate, expand and maintain U.S. 36. The company, which has offices in Australia, Singapore, Canada and the U.S., is currently in the process of building toll lanes running in both directions on the highway.

The contract is all but done. It's likely to be finalized and signed within two weeks. That information met with loud shouts and boos from the crowd at the meeting.

The company has already put up millions of dollars for improvements on U.S. 36. CDOT says without the public-private partnership, the improvements currently being made to the highway would not have happened for another two decades.

Under the terms of the current deal, Plenary would be responsible for maintaining U.S. 36 until 2063.

That's not what has residents and some legislators concerned. What does is that Plenary would also receive all revenues from the toll lanes for the next 50 years under the terms of the current deal.

Some of the outcry has been focused not so much on the terms of the deal, but on the alleged secrecy that has surrounded it.

Late last month, Matt Jones, a state senator from Louisville, and 13 other Democratic lawmakers from around the state called for a 60-day review before "entering into a secret 50-year toll lane contract" for any privately-managed toll lanes on U.S. 36.

One concern the 14 lawmakers voiced in their letter centered on the time period of the deal, citing earlier data about U.S. 36, which was first opened as a toll road in 1952. The toll at that time was 25 cents, and it was lifted in 1968, much earlier than projected.

"The Denver-Boulder Turnpike started as a toll road under terms people knew about ahead of time," lawmakers wrote. "It was paid off in 15 years, much shorter than 50, with terms people understood."

Among other concerns voiced about the deal were the potential price of the toll, which could rise as high as $28 roundtrip during peak hours, language in the deal that may prevent the public sector from constructing or improving roads that compete with U.S. 36 and the notion that the toll lane may not be free for vehicles with two occupants -- only those with three.

CDOT has called some of the criticisms of the deal "simply erroneous," including the suggestion that the toll could balloon to as high as $28 roundtrip. Instead, CDOT officials have said, it's more likely the toll would end up costing commuters $5 to $6 roundtrip.

Furthermore, CDOT has argued without a public-private partnership, like the one contained in the currently-constructed deal with Plenary, U.S. 36 renovations would still be decades away due to a lack of public funding.

Plenary has not yet commented on the deal, referring all those seeking comment to CDOT.

At stake in this debate, in the minds of some lawmakers, is setting a potentially-dangerous precedent for the future privatization of toll lanes on other Colorado highways, including I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins, C-470 in the southwest Denver Metro area, and I-70 through central Denver.

A group called Friends of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission seems to believe that process has begun, and has posted a petition online calling on the Colorado Senate and House to strip local government agencies of the ability to privatize any and all Colorado roads.

A second public meeting on the subject is scheduled Thursday at the former Sam's Club at 550 S. McCaslin Blvd., Louisville, Colo. at 6:30 p.m.



  • Vanda Banda

    Thank you for posting this :) We were unaware of it like many other until we heard on the radio this morning and looked it up when we got home. I signed the petition and emailed everyone “higher up” about this issue. The same group that started the petition also has this (it’s listed in the petition but I feel it’s really important so I’m posting here as well…The Boulder based Drive SunShine Institute (DSI) is considering a 2014 ballot initiative to make it illegal to privatize state assets without getting approval from Colorado voters.
    If you support this ballot initiative please email us at:

  • Vincent Wolf

    Our nations infrastructure is a national disgrace. All major highways should be toll free and maintained with our income taxes. Instead, the government squanders it all lining it’s own pockets instead.

  • Robert Vaessen

    I live adjacent to E-470. A toll road that is continually being improved, has tolls that continually go up (with operating expenses that continually drop) and may never be turned over to the citizens of Colorado.

    No one know what the toll agreement between the state and the operators says, my elected representatives don’t know and they won’t comment on anything regarding E-470.

    No competing roads/lanes have ever been constructed, congestion adjacent to the toll road is horrendous, and development (around the toll road) has been abysmally slow because of the high cost of transportation adjacent to the toll-road.

    Converting roads built with tax payer funds into for profit assets is a criminal endeavor which favors for-profit companies and likely lines the pockets of officials who facilitate this transfer. Converting our public roads (or lanes on those roads) into private assets is the same as stealing directly from the residents who paid for these roads.

    No one other than elected representatives (acting on the behalf of Colorado voters) should be allowed to make these sorts of deals, and the citizens should be allowed to know what the deals are before any deals are made.

    I’m willing to pay extra (i.e. Taxes) to maintain the roads in Colorado, but I’m not willing to pay a for profit company for the right to drive on a road that my tax dollars built!

    Don’t give away tax payer assets to for profit companies!

  • Tom Sanders

    One thing is for sure….your politicians will permit anything to rip you off for more money….if they could they would have every road big and small a toll road…..but that’s ok….it’s what you idiots voted for….So just shut your mouths.

  • Drew Hammann

    Always follow the cash. They knew this had to be done in the dark. Check into Plenary and contributions to “campaigns”. Check the accounts of the deal makers at CDOT as well. Liberals, you voted these people in. Time to bring back common sense to Colorado.

    • Sam Altieri

      Post some links to sources for your claims. I’ve just researched US campaign contributions from Plenary Group and I don’t find anything.

      And privitization of public utilities is a Republican/Libertarian pet issue, so . . . .

  • Asok Smith

    Hey, ya gotta love it! Looks like the Democrat executive branch of Colorado has learned their Obama dictator lessons well: do what you want no matter what, do it in secret, and totally ignore the voters and the legislature.

    Ya’ll do know that Hickenlooper could stop all of this with one phone call, both the secret contract itself as well as hiding it from the legislature? Which means of course than Hickenlooper is perfectly fine with this whole deal, maybe even is promoting it. So, all you U.S. 36 commuters, think about this next time you vote.

    • Sam Altieri

      Privitization of public roads and public utilities is a HUGE conservative, Republican idea that is consistently proposed by Republican lawmakers in every state, every year. They say the “free market” should solve every problem, and LOVE the idea of tax dollars going to enrich big business and private companies. The only lawmaker fighting this so far is the Democrat Senator from Louisville, Matt Jones.

      So, nice try. Thanks for playing.

    • John Richards

      You obviously are not researching this corrupt agreement between CDOT and PLENARY. To be fair, you can’t read the contract because it’s SECRET! The toll money is not used to pay the road off.

  • Tom Sanders

    Yep…same thing as usual….for years you remained silent on the neverending corruption happening in federal and local governments and now that it might have a impact on you you want to complain. It’s too late for that….just get down on your knees and take a load from the dictators you voted for…and above all…SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

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