It’s been a long time since this first started back in 2005. What exactly happened?
Well, actually, we have to go back a lot farther than that. In the 1880s, a piece of legislation was passed that said that a person could seize land to create a toll road. This was done mainly so that miners could get their ore to market even if there was a farm between the mine and the market. This law also stated that the county got to set the toll rate rather than letting the farmer or the miner really screw people.
Fair enough. So far.
The law was never removed from the books. Just for fun, here are some other fun laws in Colorado that were never removed from the books:
- Durango – it is illegal to go out in public dressed in clothing unbecoming to one’s gender.
- Logan County – it is illegal for a man to kiss a woman while she is asleep.
- Pueblo – it is illegal to let a dandelion grow within city limits.
- Denver – it is illegal to perform acrobatics that might frighten horses.
- Denver – it is illegal to mistreat rats.
- Denver – it is against the law to loan your vacuum cleaner to your next door neighbor.
- Denver – it is illegal for a woman to be out in a red dress after 7pm
- Denver – it is illegal to drive a black car on Sunday
- Statewide – car dealers may not show cars on a Sunday
- Statewide – It is illegal to ride a horse while under the influence.
- Sterling (and a personal favorite) – Cats may not run loose without having been fit with a taillight.
So, there are a number of bizarre laws on the books.
Now, Ray Wells is a smart man. And he was probably around when the toll road law was being written. Hell, it may have been for him in the first place. Anyway, he knew the law was still on the books, so he created a corporation in the 1980s that said, “We’re gonna build a toll road somewhere inside of this 12-mile wide corridor running here to here to here to here.” That’s it. Didn’t have to tell anyone, didn’t have to actually do anything about it, just had to pay the filing fee and it was a done deal. This also meant that if anyone else built a toll road inside of that corridor, he’d have rights to it because he’d laid claim to it, even though no one could have found that claim because it wasn’t registered — nor did it have to be — with county clerks.
So Ray Wells sat and waited. In 2005 he had legislation introduced (HB05-1030) that would have done a couple of really neat things for the Front Range Toll Road Company:
- …given the FRTRC the right to sell off acquired land as an asset
- …given the Tolling Authority the right to set tolls rather than the counties crossed being allowed to set tolls to get compensation from the road for services.
- …repealed statutes that regulated and set standards for toll roads.
- …repealed existing statutes requiring private toll road operators to maintain roads in good condition and provide penalties when they fail to meet this obligation.
- …allowed construction to proceed without any prior requirements that the company compensate local government for the costs of providing emergency services in the event of accidents or hazardous materials spills along the highway.
- …allowed construction to proceed before there has been any assessment of community and environmental impact and without the involvement of local governments in placement decisions.
This bill is what started all of the opposition rolling. Hell, it’s what made many of us aware of anything being amiss at all.
See above about the county clerks. Because they didn’t know, many of us didn’t know about this threat to our property. I moved to Elbert County in 2000, a good friend in 1998. Both of us lived in the 12-mile-wide corridor, but we didn’t know about it until February of 2005. It didn’t show up on our title searches when we bought.
Through some great organization by people in the seven counties up and down the corridor, a massive demonstration was held at the capitol building in Denver, the likes of which had never been seen before. Prior to this, Ray Wells had all the speaking power at the House and the Senate, explaining how his road was really needed out here, that it would only affect 200 families, etc. When over 1200 people showed up, the Senate Transportation Committee understood that Mr. Wells had been — how to put this delicately — lying.
The Transportation Committee voted to “postpone indefinitely” HB05-1030, effectively killing it.
Now, this was not the end. The valiant Toll Road Warriors tried to get SB05-230 and HB05-1342 passed that would have, respectively, remove the power of eminent domain from a private toll road and made a private toll road have to follow the same rules as a public toll road. They went through both houses great. Then Bill Owens vetoed them (political suicide step 1).
This session, 2006, virtually the same bills were re-introduced as SB06-078 and HB06-1003, made it through with flying colors, and got signed into law by lame duck Bill Owens.
HB06-1003 required a private toll road to play nice with others and notify people that they might lose their living room to an eighteen-wheeler. With this in mind, and with all the bad press around the Front Range Toll Road, the Front Range Toll Road is now doing business as the Prairie Falcon Parkway Express. And this second company is just so sweet and kind and open about everything. (I have to vomit now.)