Kiowa, population of 581, is located southeast of Denver, Colorado. Kiowa (map) is also one of the towns likely to be effected by a proposed new road. This isn’t just any road though. Nicknamed the “Superslab,” the proposed private toll road would cut through seven predominately rural counties along Colorado’s Front Range.
Planning for the Superslab has been underway since 1988, but garnered renewed attention during the recently concluded Colorado legislative season. Residents in the path of the proposed road objected to the 660 foot wide and 210 mile long “land grab” facilitated by an 1870’s Colorado law intended to encourage infrastructure development in and around old mining towns. The law facilitates the transfer of land taken by eminent domain by the state to private companies (a principle just recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court—though the cases are not completely analogous).
Superslab investors drew a bit of unwanted attention when they approached the state legislature this spring seeking to firm up the legislation that would allow them to set and collect tolls for such a project.
Much of the objection stems from rural residents who have little to gain from the project. With exurban sprawl already threatening the livelihood and way of life in many Front Range, Colorado communities, more roads stand to exacerbate the issue.
Furthermore, the road offers virtually nothing in the way of economic prospects for these communities. The proposed 210 mile road will include just 13 interchanges, intersecting only with major cross roads. In addition all roadside services will be contained within “service pods,” private entities owned by the same investors that will own the road.
Colorado isn’t the only state looking to private toll roads in recent years, and just this week it was reported that the U.S. Congress is set to pass legislation making private investment in large road projects tax free.
In Kiowa, Colorado residents are biding their time. After expressing outrage over the proposed road during the last legislative season, road opponents were able to get legislation favorable to Superslab investors pulled. The newly elected Democratic majority in the State House and Senate also passed legislation expanding public oversight of future private road projects, and even tried to change the law governing the use of eminent domain for private toll roads. Those bills were vetoed however by Colorado’s Republican Governor (also a long time friend of Superslab mastermind Mike Wells).
For the time being plans are on hold, but with nearly 20 years of preparation already behind them, Superslab proponents aren’t likely to give up yet.