Now that the 2020 Colorado election dust has settled, it is time to collaborate on solutions to our continuing transportation backlog. It is critical that every possible funding solution is explored and on the table for discussion.
With limited dollars available for major traffic infrastructure projects and repeated voter opposition to tax increases and fees, Colorado leaders need to consider innovative approaches and new funding sources. This includes working with the professionals at CDOT to identify and improve contracting procurement, control the overuse of expensive consultants and to examine bidding systems to make sure low bids are the norm and avoid costly change orders on major projects (once referred to as “waste, fraud and abuse”). Similarly, we need to examine additional and new ways to collaborate with the private sector to leverage public assets. I am confident these two approaches alone could generate billions of “new found” dollars for highway construction.
One such approach that merits a public review comes from ROADIS USA. The toll road operating company has been seeking an opportunity to discuss its proposal to pay $9 billion to jointly operate the E-470 toll road that runs through three counties and five cities, including Aurora, for the next 50 years. Despite this amount of money correlating precisely with our own estimate of Colorado’s highway funding deficit, to date no one at any level of Colorado government has been willing to discuss the potential for such a partnership. A citizen’s committee organized by former Aurora Mayor Bob Legare reviewing the potential for generating new revenue from existing government assets is expected to issue its report soon and hopefully will get more attention focused on this creative approach.
The ROADIS proposal is aligned with E-470’s strategic plan for growth, debt management and customer engagement. Under the proposed plan, ROADIS would enter into a 50-year joint operating agreement. Of greatest significance, the proposal would provide an additional $4.2 billion that could be used to fund additional infrastructure projects in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties and the municipalities of Aurora, Brighton, Commerce City, Thornton and Parker. The money would generate new jobs and take pressure off the CDOT budget, allowing us to direct resources to other parts of Colorado. A win-win if there ever was one!
Additionally, by law E-470 will return to CDOT ownership in 2067. Given the E-470 Authority’s refusal to even discuss innovative solutions to reduce its local government owners’ financial burdens, perhaps it is timely to broaden the conversation and explore whether CDOT could take ownership now and purchase E-470 with private sector funding, grant an operational contract and put the billions in new funding to work for all Coloradans statewide.
Collaborations like the one ROADIS is proposing are just what our State needs to consider. The E-470 toll road would be debt free, and capital infrastructure would be accelerated by an incredible 15 years. The bonus is all road projects in Colorado would have a seat at the table to tap into the new funding dollars, which would create thousands of new jobs statewide and make a significant step toward fixing our roads.
I challenge Governor Polis, my legislative colleagues and local government leaders to look at the ROADIS proposal. Let’s get started on innovative conversations to improve our traffic infrastructure now.
Ray Scott, a Grand Junction Republican, represents District 7 in the Colorado Senate and is ranking member on the Senate Transportation Committee.