State auditor faults CDOT for lack of transparency in U.S. 36 deal

From The Denver Post:   A deal that allowed a private company to manage and toll portions of U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver is actually a good deal for taxpayers, a state audit released Monday says.

But the review by the Colorado Office of the State Auditor of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s handling of the U.S. 36 contract with Plenary Roads Denver pointed out plenty of flaws, including a lack of transparency with lawmakers and the public.

Auditors found that the High Performance Transportation Enterprise — which is an arm of CDOT — “generally” adhered to industry practices for developing and procuring the U.S. 36 public-private partnership.

But the state did not consistently apply those practices when planning for the tolling on the highway, federal loan financing and operations and maintenance elements of the project.

That resulted in a one-year delay in completing the procurement, and a six-month delay in reaching “financial close.” All of which cost taxpayers an extra $5 million, since the Transportation Enterprise assumed a share of any changes in interest rates between the proposed due date and financial close, with the total payment coming in at $49 million, instead of the expected $44 million.

Auditors also found that the transportation enterprise did not adequately “engage, inform, or educate two key stakeholder groups — legislators and the general public — during the project development phase of the project.”

CDOT and the transportation enterprise also lack a comprehensive open records and transparency plan for ensuring the availability and transparency of key information and timely compliance with the Colorado Open Records Act, according to auditors.

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