And we’d like your help, as readers, to suggest firms, projects and ideas that we might otherwise miss. Who out there in our industry is making an impact—an above-and-beyond or out-of-the-box contribution—that will have ripple effects? What projects, either because of their unique financing, project delivery or cutting-edge technology and management, are raising eyebrows? What trends are you seeing, for better or worse, that you think deserve a second look?
Please see below for some of the ideas we’re starting this feature with and then help us add to those by emailing me at: email@example.com or calling the ENR Mountain States bureau office at 303-526-0620.
Who and what are you watching?
1. Privatization of Public Works. The ongoing use of P3s (public-private partnerships) for large infrastructure projects is always noteworthy. That is one of the ways that public works projects get done these days. And private maintenance contracts for public services are certainly nothing new. But a new and comprehensive form of that has emerged. Some municipalities and counties, like Cottonwood Heights, Utah, are working with private firms to provide all of their public works. These “all-in-one” contracts are becoming more popular for smaller public entities that often struggle to provide quality services to their residents. The arrangements offer many benefits—and some problems—for the public agencies that pursue them.
2. The I-70 Renaissance. Colorado’s aging east-west freeway has already seen some recent improvements: the construction in 2013 of the new eastbound bore at the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs and the replacement of the Pecos Bridge in Denver. But highway planners are struggling with ways to improve Interstate 70 between Denver and Eagle, where long summer and winter weekend backups are commonplace. Highway expansion? A monorail system? Peak-hour HOV lanes? Then there’s the thorny issue of the viaduct section of I-70 east of I-25. The plan to drop the freeway below grade and cap a portion of it has its backers and detractors. Others want to move the highway altogether, realigning it more along the existing I-76 corridor. And where that much money come from?
3. How much public help for private projects? SLC Convention Center Hotel, Gaylord Hotel and Resort, and Colorado Springs’ City of Champions. The Utah legislature will likely take up the issue again this year of providing state funding for an 800-1,000-room convention center hotel (estimated cost $350 million) near the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City. Opponents of the project don’t like using public subsidies for a mega-hotel that will compete with the city’s existing hospitality venues.
The $700-million-plus Gaylord project near Denver International Airport remains under the cloud of a lawsuit led by downtown Denver hotel owners and operators. Same issue: How much business will the project, enhanced by Regional Tourism Act (RTA) funding incentives, draw away from downtown hotels and restaurants?
The Colorado Springs area was recently awarded more than $120 million in tax incentives from the RTA to build several new facilities designed to bring more tourists into El Paso County. The four proposed venues (a new visitors center at the Air Force Academy, U.S. Olympic Museum, a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and a downtown sports center) face additional funding challenges and a five-year “substantial progress” deadline. Some critics have called the RTA’s award too generous and see the projects as an overreach that won’t meet their anticipated tourism goals.
4. Colorado Flood Recovery. The initial (and in some cases temporary) infrastructure repairs are complete after the massive damage from the September floods. But more permanent fixes are still being discussed, planned, designed and debated. Long-term fixes to highways through the flood plains, key water storage dams and other water infrastructure will require thoughtful planning and a smart funding stew to happen in a timely way. Questions include: How well will the many agencies cooperate? How will regional and state politics (especially in a mid-term election year) either contribute to or further muddy the waters of a meaningful recovery plan? What will those long-term solutions look like?
5. Wind and Solar in the West. Alternative-energy projects like solar and wind farms in the sunny, windy West continue to have their supporters and detractors. Several large wind-farm projects have been completed across the region in the past couple of years. Firms such turbine and blade manufacturer Vestas, which has three plants in Colorado, report large new orders for products, but how will government regulations and subsidies affect the future of these projects? How will fluctuating interest from large energy providers affect construction of new sites, especially when many of them view alternative energy as a threat to their bottom line?
Stay tuned as we “watch” these issues—and much more—in the coming year. And please let us know what you think is worth watching out there.