Boulder Turnpike privatization plan rips off Colorado, says advocate behind lawsuit

Page 2 of 2

In Beitel's opinion, CDOT's claims that privatization will make improvements happen decades sooner than under other circumstances is "basically marketing propaganda. The Drive SunShine Institute, in partnership with other organizations, has laid out a concise, four-point revenue plan that would make sure no public highway in Colorado ever needs to be converted into a toll road."

In the proposal, money would come from marijuana sales tax revenue, plus what Beitel characterizes as modest increases in fuel taxes and a severance tax on oil-and-gas production, and a flat tax on income over $500,000 that he calls "small."

As for other options, Beitel believes they were short-circuited. "I spoke at a transportation briefing last week at the Capitol, and Senator Matt Jones expressed it very well. He's very involved in transportation issues, but he was never told there was a shortfall on the U.S. 36 project. Colorado legislators never had a chance to provide public financing for the project, and Senator Jones says if he had known about it, the state could have come up with the $120 million to finance U.S. 36 without privatizing it."

Jones is among the signatories on a letter asking for the signing of the contract to be pushed back. It's on view below.

These matters helped inspired a lawsuit Beitel says will be filed tomorrow. "What we're calling for is a sixty-day hold on the fifty-year contract signing," which is expected to take place within the week, "and a cost-benefit analysis of using private sector dollars versus public financing.

"The grounds for the lawsuit is a 2009 environmental-impact assessment for U.S. 36, which is deeply flawed," he adds. "It states that the carbon emissions fro the 100,000 vehicles that travel the highway daily are a drop in the bucket -- but two policies of a privatized U.S. 36 will greatly increase carbon emissions.

"HOV3 means a majority of Colorado drivers will give up car pooling, since it's hard to find one friend to car pool with, let alone two -- and that will lead to more cars on the road. And secondly, the fifty-year contract makes it impossible to incentivize electric vehicles using the HOV lane. California and Florida are seeing great success with that, but with privatization, it will be illegal for the State of Colorado to allow electric vehicles to travel in the HOV lanes without paying compensation to Plenary for the length of the contract."

Of course, the success of such arguments isn't guaranteed, and in a Boulder Daily Camera article, CDOT's Ford is quoted as saying a suit wouldn't "necessarily stop the financial close." But DSI is also taking its criticism public via a "Freedom Vigil" getting underway at noon tomorrow, February 19, at CDOT's headquarters, 4201 East Arkansas Avenue in Denver. For more information, click here.

Beitel hopes these various tactics will help put the brakes on a plan he sees as hurting Colorado for many years to come. "We believe the privatization of highways is like a high-interest credit card," he says. "The State of Colorado gets immediate money, but the taxpayers have to pay a high price in tolls over the next fifty years."

Here's the aforementioned privatization letter signed by Senator Matt Jones.

US 36 Privatization Letter

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our News archive circa July 2013: "HOV3: When and why two-occupant cars will have to pay to use I-25, US 36 express lanes."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts