Super-Slab Road Back from Dead


June 7, 2005
By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News

Gov. Bill Owens injected life back into the Super Slab toll road from Fort Collins to Pueblo Monday when he vetoed two bills that would have all but killed it.

Owens said SB 230 went too far by barring private companies from condemning private property to build toll roads.

He also said HB 1342 creates unnecessary bureaucracy to review the environmental impact of private toll roads.

"I'm shocked," said Marsha Looper, member of the Eastern Plain Citizens Coalition that supported SB 230. "This is a measure that was supported by almost every state legislator - Republican and Democrat. It should be a no-brainer for a governor who claims to support conservative ideals like protecting the rights of private landowners."

The coalition has vowed to continue to fight the road.

Ray Wells, founder of the Front Range Toll Road Co., wants to condemn enough land to build the road through Larimer, Weld, Adams, Arapahoe, Elbert, El Paso and Pueblo counties and to have a buffer of open space on either side.

Monday's news was mixed, said Ellen Dumm, spokeswoman for Wells. While her boss opposed the bill that would have prevented the company from condemning private land, he approved much of the oversight, accountability and environmental protections HB 1342 would have provided, she said.

"We were prepared to move forward with the rules in place," Dumm said. "Now we're back to square one."

The toll company is willing to live by the same oversight and environmental mitigations imposed on the Colorado Department of Transportation, she said. "We've said from the beginning there has to be public oversight and environmental standards," she said. "There's no way our investors want to run roughshod over anyone."

Under SB 230, the toll company would have had to partner with a public entity such as CDOT and have that agency exercise its power of eminent domain to condemn the properties in the corridor.

But CDOT's lawyers said the agency may not be allowed to condemn land for a private company, Dumm said.

Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who supported the bills, said if Wells starts building the road before the next legislative session when an alternative bill can be proposed, "There may be a legal problem stopping him."

All 65 House members and all 35 senators favored HB 1342, the bill to apply environmental standards and public oversight to the process of building a private toll road.

SB 230 also passed overwhelmingly, 34-0 in the Senate and 49-15 in the House.

"Gov. Owens with this veto has put the interest of one wealthy highway developer over the will of the legislature and the people of Colorado," Will Coyne of Environment Colorado said. "Gov. Owens is a very lonely single friend of the Super Slab."


Other actions

Owens vetoed two other bills:

SB 82 would have created a Colorado "Kids First" license plate, available for a one-time fee of $25. Owens said the bill doesn't specify how the money collected would be used to help kids. Owens also ordered the Department of Revenue to review the other specialty-plate programs to see if there are adequate accounting safeguards.

SB 223 would have created the Consolidated Communications Network Authority to enhance homeland security. Owens said the new authority would be "simply another entity seeking federal grant dollars that local entities already can access through the state."