CDOT, Plenary finalize U.S. 36 deal

BOULDER – The Colorado Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced that it has finalized a public-private partnership with Plenary Roads Denver to manage U.S. Highway 36 between Boulder and Denver for the next 50 years.

The contract had become the focus of much outcry in recent weeks from the public and state lawmakers who contended that there was too much secrecy surrounding the deal.

The U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project adds a toll lane in each direction between Boulder and Denver that will also be used for bus rapid transit. Vehicles carrying three or more people can also use the lanes for free. The project also refurbishes the existing general-purpose lanes and adds a commuter bike lane.

Plenary Roads Denver – a consortium of companies including the Plenary Group, Ames Construction, Granite Construction, HDR, Transfield Services and Goldman Sachs – will finance the project, including some of its own equity, and will be responsible for maintenance of the highway. In return, Plenary Roads Denver collects the toll revenue from the express lanes for the next 50 years.

Wednesday’s financial close of the deal included the completion of the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program loans for the second phase of the project from 88th Avenue to Boulder. The financial close also finalized the private bonds for the project.

Detractors of the deal had pointed to aspects of the contract that raise the definition of a high occupancy vehicle – and thus one that can use the express lanes for free – from two passengers to three. Also criticized was the fact that tolls for a round trip from Boulder to Denver could rise to as much as $28 during the life of the contract.

But the deal also had its supporters, including the Denver and Boulder chambers of commerce and others who believed the roadwork was necessary to relieve congestion on U.S. 36. CDOT has stated that without the public-private partnership, the improvements would not have been completed for another 20 years due to lack of funding.

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