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Lawsuit To Be Filed Over U.S. 36 Public-Private Project

Landry Heaton
Flickr - Creative Commons

Controversy over the Colorado Department of Transportation’s first public private partnership along U.S. 36 has risen in recent weeks.

On Wednesday a group of community activists plans to file a lawsuit to try and slow it down.

The nonprofit Drive SunShine Institute is behind the lawsuit and says an Environmental Impact Assessment on plans to build a new toll lane was never completed.

"I can't say that it's a bad contract, I can't say that it's a good one, that's the problem..."

“The bottom line is that the 2009 Environmental Impact Assessment for the US 36 project is seriously flawed,” said Ken Beitel, a clean energy analyst with non-profit Drive SunShine Institute. “The EIA claims that daily carbon emissions from the 100,000 vehicles on US 36 are just a drop in the bucket compared with total global emissions and hence, don’t need to be considered.”

State officials counter that the process was wide-ranging.

“It was an extensive outreach process that was conducted between 2003 and 2009 that concluded with a signed record of decision with the federal highway administration,” said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. “So that process was very thorough, very comprehensive and involved the public extensively on what really the final solution should be in this corridor.”

The private company the Plenary group will pay for part of the toll lane’s construction and maintain the road for 50 years. Democratic House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder is one of 14 lawmakers with concerns about the plan.

“I can’t say that it’s a bad contract, I can’t say that it’s a good one, that’s the problem,” said Hullinghorst. “So I wouldn’t mind having this held up just a little bit to get some explanation so that our citizens feel more comfortable with this.”

Every city and county government along the road has signed off on the plan to ease congestion. The new law will accommodate toll drivers, rapid bus and HOV passengers. State lawmakers say Colorado doesn’t have enough money to pay for the entire project itself. The financial close is scheduled for the end of February and the updates to U.S. 36 will be complete in 2016.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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