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Critics want more details in US 36 deal

9:17 PM, Feb 17, 2014   |    comments
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KUSA - Critics of a plan to privatize a new express lanes on US 36 say the Colorado Department of Transportation isn't sharing enough details about the project.

In an attempt to calm public outcry, CDOT shared the 600-page contract it plans to sign with a private company called Plenary Roads Denver.

But parts of it were omitted over concerns for Plenary's ability to protect its business strategy.

The highway belongs to the people, but Plenary will pay part of the cost to make it bigger.

"Going down the privatization road might help you get some money, but it takes away your control and the citizens' control in my mind. And that's a problem," said Sen. Matt Jones (D-Boulder.)

Jones is a vocal critic of the deal in which Plenary would fork over more than $100 million dollars in exchange for the right to collect the tolls people pay in a new express lane for 50 years.

This is bigger than Highway 36.

CDOT is thinking about this method of financing for big projects on I-70 and I-25 and how this deal goes down could affect what those deals look like or whether they happen at all.

That's why people are watching how this contract develops so carefully.

Sections on maintenance and snow removal were kept secret, as was a portion showing the financial model for the overall project.

"What we don't know is how much [Plenary is] going to make on the contract. It's not in there," said Jones.

Jones says we need to know that so the public can decide if it makes more financial sense to privatize or to raise taxes or take out bonds for the project instead.

"If they sign the deal, we'll be learning things for years to come that will be almost impossible to change," said Jones.

CDOT officials weren't available for a taped interview, but they say they need to protect the trade secrets of Plenary Roads, which has its own methods for keeping maintenance costs low to maximize profit.

"Plenary has asked that [portions of the contract] be held private because they contain trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information that competitors could use to the disadvantage of Plenary in pursuing its business," wrote CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.

CDOT has the legal authority to sign the deal now and plans to do so at the end of this month.

If things go wrong trying to close this deal, the agency worries it will have a hard time finding private investors to help pay for other big highway projects in the future.

Even though CDOT hasn't released the contract language for snow removal and maintenance, it has put out a description of how those parts of the contract work.

Each year the state will pay Plenary Roads a lump sum to do those jobs.

The state also has some protections to make sure Plenary to does a good enough job.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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