Audit: CDOT must be more transparent about private sector deals

Photo: U.S. Highway 36 near Boulder
Traffic moves toward Denver on an under-construction stretch of U.S. 36 east of Boulder.

A legislative audit released Monday says the Colorado Department of Transportation must improve its communication about public-private partnerships, like the one adding toll lanes between Denver and Boulder.

CDOT's 50-year contract with a private company to construct and manage sections of U.S. 36 faced harsh criticism last year. Government staffers reported the learning curve was “like drinking from a fire hose.” And that worried Legislative Audit Committee Chair Senator Lucia Guzman, D-Denver.

“I can see how not only members of the Legislature but members of the public were very concerned or had been very concerned,” Guzman said.

Shailen Bhatt, CDOT’s new executive director, says while the agency followed all transparency laws, more could have been done to inform the public about the U.S. 36 partnership.

“If we are telling people that we’re being transparent but they’re still telling us that we’re not, we probably haven’t reached that level," Bhatt said. "I've talked to the staff about taking a lot of the steps that have been discussed today.”

CDOT says it’s using many of the audit's 13 recommendations for its newest public-private project, reconstructing a section of Interstate 70 in north Denver.