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Peyton landowners want answers regarding proposed toll road

Confused. Frustrated. Uninformed. Area landowners who attended a public meeting regarding the proposed toll road last month felt this way before the meeting, and probably still do.More than 500 people filled the Peyton High School gymnasium, eager to hear answers to their questions. People line up by the dozens to take their turn at the microphone. Most of the questions were directed to Ray Wells, president of The Front Range Toll Company Inc.Ellen Dumm, media and public relations spokesperson for the Front Range Toll Company Inc., opened the meeting with a brief explanation of HB 05-1030. The bill amends an historic Colorado law allowing the statewide tolling authority to set consistent tolls through multiple counties, updates the law to conform to current traffic issues, while preserving local government land-use authority in developing the corridor.Meeting attendees were not as concerned with an explanation of the actual bill, but rather that it is tied to the proposed building of a two10-mile transportation corridor from near Wellington in northern Colorado to just south of Pueblo. The $2 billion project will be privately funded through the Front Range Toll Company Inc.Recently, the New Falcon Herald proposed the following 40 questions to the Front Range Toll Road Company, in hopes of getting clear and complete answers to questions that were offered up at the meeting, as well as rumors found on the Internet. Dumm answered the following questions.

  1. Toll rates will be set by Colorado Tolling Enterprise or the Colorado Transportation Commission? Or are they one and the same?
    The tolling authority was created three years ago by the Legislature because it became clear that toll roads were a part of Colorado’s future, because of the lack of public funding available for transportation. The authority is comprised of the Colorado Department of Transportation Commission members, with a different chair.
  2. What are the estimated toll rates?
    There is no proposed toll yet. It would have to be low enough to attract sufficient traffic, but high enough to sustain the repayment of the bonds. The $20 for a personal automobile for the entire length of the road [which is the current estimated rate], but this will be finalized as the project proceeds.
  3. When was this project first proposed?
    The project was originally proposed by the (then) Colorado Highway Department in 1985. Ray Wells and his partners filed incorporation papers for the private version in June 1986 when it was apparent there was no public funding available.
  4. Why did it fail the first time?
    It has never “failed.” It has been on the books for 20 years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Colorado’s economy was in a recession and there was no one who would fund anything of this magnitude in Colorado. As the state has grown (producing more traffic along I-25) and the economy has gotten stronger, the project has become more viable and recently attracted major investment interest.
  5. Does HB#05-1030 touch the issue of eminent domain and in fact wouldn’t The Front Range Toll Road Company be able to condemn private property along the route due to the Colorado law enacted in the 1880s when the Pikes Peak toll road was built?
    HB 05-1030 does not deal with eminent domain at all. The original private toll road law was passed in the 1880s but has been re-codified (1975). Private toll roads (along with other private companies such as utilities, pipelines, cable companies) have existing right of eminent domain. The legislation allows the toll road to contract with the state for traffic enforcement, have the state tolling authority approve the tolls, reinforces county land use authority and allows the corporation to convey its assets.
  6. Does this bill refer to legislation dating back to the 1870s where private parties are allowed to lay claim to a right of way for the purposes of building a road?
  7. Does this measure grant extraordinary powers to these private interests including the power to condemn peoples’ land?
  8. Is it true that in the 1980s the State Legislature repealed the law but not before a group of speculators and road enthusiasts (a.k.a. The Front Range Toll Company) claimed a right of way 200 miles long and 12 miles wide?
  9. Is The Front Range Toll Company’s right to this land tied to the 1891 statute that empowers any corporation building a road to use condemnation if it can’t negotiate a purchase price?
    The original law (recodified in 1975) did allow that power. It is a lengthy and more expensive process, which is only used as a last resort. It is the same process used by CDOT for fair market compensation.
  10. What’s the difference between having “a claim” on a piece of land and actually owning it?
    The “claim” is for exclusive rights to develop the toll road within the defined corridor. There is no legal claim to anyone’s property in the corridor.
  11. So if that is true, and The Front Range Toll Company does currently own this piece of land, then why even address the landowners? It sounds as if they have no say in the matter.
    The Front Range Toll Road Company does not own any property in the corridor. But the company does want to communicate with the community as the project moves forward. The county land use procedures will play an important part in the project, if it moves forward.
  12. At the March 3 meeting at Peyton High School, landowners had two burning questions. Why wouldn’t Ray Wells offer a definitive layout of where this proposed corridor is? And what is the name of the investor for this project?
    No route has been drawn because this is just the first step in the development process. There are requirements such as environmental studies, engineering, soils testing and other issues that must be resolved first. There is preliminary engineering being done now to narrow the corridor to two miles and should be available in 30-60 days. Under the contractual agreement, the investor is not disclosed until the contract is signed.
  13. First, is there a definitive layout of where the proposed corridor is?
    The description is in the Articles of Incorporation.
  14. Is there an official map?
    The map is on the Web site. Because of the size of the area, we are currently working on county maps that will have more detail. Those should be available next week and we will put them on the website as soon as we can.
  15. Second, who is the investor?
    The investor is a large corporation with Colorado presence.
  16. When will the name of the investor be revealed? Why does the public have to wait?
    It is standard practice in the business community to wait to disclose investors until a contract is signed. Once the legislation is passed, the investor will be announced.
  17. Any chance of the investor backing out of this project?
    The investor is very committed to this project, but nothing is definite until the contract is signed.
  18. Has a contract been signed?
  19. If by some chance the investor does back out, what is the back up plan for The Front Range Toll Company?
    Again, the investor is committed. The FRTR is free to look for another investor if the contract is not signed.
  20. Will Wells and The Front Range Toll Company continue with the project?
  21. Will they find another investor?
  22. It was reported in the Feb. 3 issue of The Coloradoan that Rep. Jim Sullivan was quoted as saying “the project wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.” Is it true no public funds would be required to help build this highway?
    Yes. The entire cost of construction, operation and maintenance is paid by the Front Range Toll Road. FRTR is not asking for public subsidies or tax breaks. Colorado can barely afford to maintain the highways it has now. TREX and other similar future projects must rely on public bonds, creating future debt. This project is privately funded.
  23. How can Wells and The Front Range Toll Company make this guarantee?
    The project will be financed through 20-25 year private bonds. Bond companies will perform numerous rigorous reviews of the project’s ability to pay back the bonds before that financial agreement is complete.
  24. Another issue concerning area landowners is that if this super highway is built, it could be the largest “sprawl generator” in Colorado history.
    This is the first anti-sprawl highway in Colorado. It is designed to keep development away by acquiring a mile of open space on either side of the highway. The open space will be held in public trust and managed separately, not by the company.
  25. According to Wells, there will only be “service pods” (to possibly include gas stations, motels and restaurants) available at various locations along the highway. How can guarantees that more development (such as retail stores, grocery stores, housing developments) will not continue?
    The service areas will be inside the 660-foot corridor, located between the divided highway, similar to the Kansas Turnpike and others. The plans will be approved by county commissioners, who control land use issues. The open space acquisition assures no development in perpetuity.
  26. If the answer to that question relates to the creation of easements, then is it in control of The Front Range Toll Company to stop development from occurring anywhere outside the easements?
    No, the county commissioners have control over what happens outside the open space.
  27. Does The Front Road Toll Company currently have estimates on how much the land is worth?
    The value of land is public in each county, based on sales of similar land.
  28. As posted on New First 5/30’s Web site, “The company already has rights to the land. … The law would allow the company to force people to sell land at fair market value.” Is this true? What if the landowner refuses to sell their land?
    The first statement is incorrect, there is no “right” to the land. That must be negotiated. The right of eminent domain only applies to the 660-foot wide road/rail corridor and is only used as a last resort. If an owner does not want to sell and there is an adjacent property owner who does, FRTR would negotiate with the willing seller. If there is no other way to acquire a necessary property, there are appraisals done by the owner and FRTR (paid for by FRTR). If a price is not agreed upon, a third appraisal would be done. And if condemnation were necessary, it would finally go to a jury to decide. This procedure is set by law. The open space property does not fall under eminent domain law. It must be negotiated.
  29. In similar cases of building major highway systems, other contractors have taken landowners to court in order to come to an agreement on selling the land. Is this something Wells and The Front Range Toll Company would consider doing if they and the landowners cannot come to some agreement?
    See above. It is set by law.
  30. Mr. Well’s claims that there are only 200 property owners involved and Matt Benson of The Coloradoan reported on Feb. 8 that Wells “asserted that landowners he’s had discussions with have been receptive.” But at the March 3 meeting, there were more than 500 people in attendance and an overwhelming majority of those were landowners who are against the building of this highway. How do you explain the difference in numbers and opinion?
    Not everyone in attendance at the Peyton meeting will fall within the eventual route, most may not even be close. FRTR has been contacted by many landowners who are interested in selling their property or development rights for an easement. There are many large parcels of land that account for a surprisingly small number of property owners.
  31. Are all the proper steps being taken on this project? Is the Front Range Toll Company adhering to all the federal and state requirements?
    Yes. Environmental studies will be conducted, local land use regulations will be followed, CDOT/federal procedures will be followed as the interchanges are designed and constructed at major highways. This highway will be built to a higher engineering standard than the state highways.
  32. For example, has The Front Range Toll Company submitted this project for review by any public planning agencies to see if it meets all the standards and regulations for approval?
    Over the years, FRTR has had preliminary discussions with all the counties, CDOT and others, at various times, but no plans have been submitted at this early stage.
  33. Or is The Front Range Toll Company not required to do this because a private party will own it rather than the state?
    The corridor will be subjected to many layers of public and private scrutiny. While this private/public partnership is rare in Colorado, it is very common in other countries and may be a model for future development.

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