Senate panel deals blow to toll road

April 27, 2005
DENVER - Almost 300 foes of a proposed 250-mile private toll road in eastern Colorado essentially killed the plan Tuesday without saying a word. During a Senate committee meeting on Senate Bill 230 — which would take the power of condemnation from the Front Range Toll Road Co.
and other would-be private toll road developers — lawmakers asked those who supported the bill to stand. Senate aides counted 275 people standing up for the bill and one person on his feet in opposition. Lawmakers didn’t take public testimony. Members of the Senate Transportation Committee then voted 6-1 to approve the bill, which goes to the full Senate for debate. “We just wanted the bill to pass, and we got it,” said Bob Lehman, who traveled to the Capitol from Calhan. “We didn’t want to hold them up.” The Lehmans live within the 12-mile-wide swath of a proposed private toll road that would run from Fort Collins to Pueblo, miles to the east of the major cities along the route. Opponents of the plan chartered five buses to take people to Denver to show their support for SB230. It was the second time toll road foes have descended upon the Statehouse this year. In March, an estimated 800 people went to lobby legislators to defeat House Bill 1030, which tinkered with the 1880s law that authorizes private toll roads in Colorado. Defeating that bill, however, left the door open for the project to move forward. SB230 by Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, would finish the job. “One of the most troubling aspects of the current law . . . is the whole issue of condemnation of private property,” he said. “We still have a cloud over the homes and businesses of many Coloradans.” By taking the power of condemnation, the bill would remove the primary tool that would have been used by developers to build the road. Officials from the toll road company released a prepared statement before the committee meeting. “The company directors understand there are public concerns about eminent domain and its proper use,” the statement reads. “It is a tool of last resort that requires responsibility and proper oversight to protect landowners and company rights. However, we have legal reservations with SB230 as written and would oppose its passage without amendments.” No amendments were added. Some committee members were critical of the odd manner used to gauge public support for SB230. “I’m troubled because I think there is some information that should have been read into the record,” said Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, the only lawmaker to vote against SB230. But committee Chairwoman Stephanie Takis, D-Denver, said her unusual move was fair and meant to save time. “I can only see one way to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” she said. “I’m sorry if you don’t agree with my ruling. That should show on the record that this group is definitely in support of this bill.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 1-303-837-0613 or
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