Criticized Colorado turnpike contract made public

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News,Business,Transportation

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Department of Transportation on Friday publicly released its much-criticized contract with a private firm to operate U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder for the next 50 years.

The contract has been posted on CDOT's website at http://tinyurl.com/k5o4tj7.

The contract, which officials said could be signed as early as next week, calls for a consortium of private enterprises called Plenary Roads Denver to spend $425 million to add a toll lane to the general-purpose lanes already running in each direction.

The consortium would then collect all the tolls and maintain and plow the highway for 50 years.

State lawmakers and the public have sharply criticized CDOT for the secrecy surrounding the deal.

Some have also expressed concern that tolls could reach $28 for a round-trip, although CDOT has said they will be closer to $8 to $12. Others object to a requirement that vehicles have three occupants, instead of the customary two, to use toll lanes without charge.

Lawmakers wanted 60 days to review the contract, but CDOT said Thursday it needs to close the deal sooner.

One critic, Ken Beitel, said a newly revealed provision of the contract could allow the Legislature to delay it long enough to review it in detail.

The provision says the contract can't be signed if either side is involved in a legal dispute, The Denver Post reported (http://tinyurl.com/muytp2v ).

"Any lawmaker who will allow the governing board to sign the contract without lawmakers even having the time to review it does so at the risk of not being elected in the fall," said Beitel, chairman of the advisory board of the Drive SunShine Institute.

Other provisions allow Plenary to be compensated for lost revenue if the toll lanes are closed for more than 12 hours a year for reasons other than accidents, weather or other safety issues.

It includes penalties for Plenary if it misses construction deadlines — up to $1.1 million in damages and up to $5.5 million in shared toll revenue.

Some provisions are summarized, rather than spelled out in detail, at Plenary's request because they contain propriety information, CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said.

"Those include how the company procures a project internally," she said.

The contract will be reviewed by CDOT's High Performance Transportation Enterprise governing board, which could approve it as soon as Wednesday, Ford said.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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