DALLAS - With the threat of a lawsuit hanging over plans for a $490 million redevelopment of U.S. 36 linking Denver to Boulder, the Colorado Department of Transportation is sharing details of its agreement with an international consortium hired to manage the project.
CDOT posted hundreds of pages of documents, including the concession agreement with Plenary Roads Denver LLC, on its website Feb. 14. The financial close on the 50-year contract for U.S. 36 is expected to occur by the end of the month, a CDOT spokeswoman said.
"The U.S. 36 project has been the result of an extensive public process over the last decade," CDOT said in a statement. "The US 36 Express Lanes Project -- a new express lane for Bus Rapid Transit, carpool vehicles and tolled vehicles, as well as the reconstruction of existing general purpose lanes (which continue to be free to all users) and the rebuilding of many aging bridges and a bikeway -- is the result of that process."
In addition to posting the documents, the Plenary Group held two meetings in Denver's northwestern suburbs to hear public comment and protests over the proposed deal.
The Drive Sunshine Institute, a division of the Renewable Energy Initiative, has launched a petition to prohibit CDOT from entering into such contracts and threatened to file a lawsuit. Several state legislators also asked for more information about the contract.
The institute, based in Boulder, says that a true environmental impact study was never conducted.
"The bottom line is that the 2009 Environmental Impact Assessment for the U.S. 36 project is seriously flawed," said Ken Beitel, a clean energy analyst with the institute. "A deficient EIA that actually increases carbon emissions on U.S. 36 means that federal tax dollars in the form of TIFIA loans cannot be used to support the U.S. 36 privatization project."
The institute said that the 50-year US 36 deal also forces cars carrying two people to start paying tolls of $10, potentially rising to $28, for a Boulder-Denver round trip during rush hour.
The Plenary Group, an international infrastructure developer with offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Australia, operates as the P3 partner of CDOT under the High-Performance Transportation Enterprise board. The board held public meetings in the Denver suburbs of Westminster and Louisville Feb. 19 and 20. Officials of the organization also briefed lawmakers Feb. 20.
According to CDOT, redeveloping U.S. 36 with private funding will accelerate the project by 20 years, requires the least up-front subsidy and minimizes risk to the public sector.
CDOT officials say falling fuel-tax revenues have made it impossible to fund highway projects in the traditional manner. Colorado's 22-cents per gallon fuel tax has not been raised since 1991, and a voter initiative to raise the tax was scrapped last year when supporters realized it could not pass.