6/07/2005

Owens vetos bills to block Super Slab: Denver (CO) Post, 6/6/05

By Steven K. Paulson, The Associated Press

Gov. Bill Owens today vetoed two bills designed to limit or block a proposed private toll highway along the Front Range and urged lawmakers to study the issue this summer.

One bill would have denied developer Ray Wells the ability to condemn and take over private land, which Wells said would have killed the project. The other would have required corporations to notify all landowners whose property might be affected.

The 210-mile, Wellington-to-Pueblo road, nicknamed "Super Slab," encountered fierce opposition after it was proposed.

Officially called the Front Range Toll Road, the project would include a 660-foot-wide corridor for a superhighway and railroad tracks. It would also carry gas lines, electrical lines and information cable and would have a 1-mile conservation easement on either side to prevent congestion.

Backers of the plan have identified a 12-mile-wide swath where the highway might go, involving thousands of property owners.

Protesters showed up at rallies and said the project would hurt property values.

Wells did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Owens said in his veto letter to lawmakers that both bills were too broad to effectively address potential problems with eminent domain and preserve the ability of private companies to invest in toll roads.

"Private investment in Colorado's transportation infrastructure is needed now more than ever," Owens told lawmakers. The governor said funding for the state Transportation Department next year is expected to be 40 percent below what it was three years ago.

Owens said eminent domain should be a tool of last resort and must include safeguards to protect landowners. He said he vetoed Senate Bill 230 because it did not provide safeguards and would have repealed eminent domain entirely.

Owens said he vetoed House Bill 1342 because it would have created an unnecessary state-level environmental process that could not be amended by the Transportation Commission or Department of Transportation.

Carrie Doyle, spokeswoman for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said a state-level environmental process is necessary, especially on a project of the magnitude proposed by developers.

"A toll road should have to follow the same rules as any other public highway. Let's have the same thoughtful analysis and public input on a project of this scale," she said.


Denver Post: www.denverpost.com