Columns » Ranger Rich

Living the high life via E-470

Ranger Rich

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Denver TV's 9News ("Don't Let Our Amazing Hair Distract You From Our Fantastic Teeth") recently aired an investigative piece about executives of the E-470 toll road spending money on lavish trips and massages.

By comparison, that same night, Colorado Springs TV news led with a fascinating story in which a firefighter, a waitress and two unemployed people tried to guess how far a dog could walk without resting. The correct answer was "a thousand miles, especially if he was trying to get away from that guy in Pueblo."

E-470 is a 47-mile road providing access to Denver International Airport, which is conveniently located in South Dakota. DIA is used by many Colorado Springs travelers because it offers a few amenities not found at our own airport, such as airplanes and other people.

Anyway, among the discoveries made by Denver TV news reporter Jeremy Jojola was that E-470 toll execs spent $13,000 in the past three years on a massage therapist.

I have no idea how stressful it must be to run a toll road. I can only imagine it's a living hell, what with two-axle vehicles going this way and three-or-more-axle vehicles going that way and the skilled drivers from Colorado Springs backing up in the fast lane because they missed the exit.

So it's not surprising that the toll road execs desire the gentle, loving, oily touch of a complete stranger once in a while. This is called "shiatsu." Unless Herman Cain happens to be in the room. Then it's called a "job interview."

Speaking of weasel world, I mean politics, here, from the E-470 website, is the toll road hierarchy:

The E-470 Public Highway Authority is a political subdivision of the State of Colorado. The Board of Directors consists of eight voting member jurisdictions: Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties and the municipalities of Aurora, Brighton, Commerce City, Thornton, and Parker. Affiliate, non-voting members: Cities of Arvada and Greeley, City and County of Broomfield, and Weld County. Ex-officio members: Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and the Regional Transportation District (RTD).

Given that simple, streamlined structure, it's hard to imagine any room for questionable spending by the execs. But you know what they say: It's that 99 percent of politicians who ruin it for all of them.

Take E-470 board member Jim Benson from Commerce City. On an important toll fact-finding mission to San Diego, he brought his golf clubs.

Here now, a transcript from that meeting:

San Diego toll road expert: "So, how many lanes are there on E-470?"

Benson: "Fore!"

As a bonus, Benson also charged E-470 the airline's $100 excess baggage fee. In strict golf terms, that takes a lot of balls.

Luckily for Benson, his boss, E-470 executive director John McCuskey, is a straight-talking man who, when asked about the golf clubs, said this: "We are an enterprise. We have to operate like a business. We don't have any recourse to our member jurisdictions."

Which sounds a lot smarter than saying, "It's not our money. Bite me."

In all, travel expenses for the toll execs in the past two years came to more than $25,000, including a stay at the ultra-swank Ritz-Carlton near Tampa. Very important toll road issues were also discussed in Miami and Boston.

Oh, and they went — I am not kidding — to Germany, too. Which explains why on Jan. 1 the E-470 speed limit will be nudged up slightly to 200 mph.

From boss McCuskey: "There's nothing like the face-to-face exchange of information. The exchange of data, the opportunity to talk, to build networks, to meet new colleagues."

McCuskey then ended the interview because he believed he had responded adequately to the questions and also because thousands of flies had landed on him.

Oh, and get this: Earlier this year, the Mensa Club that is the E-470 gang unanimously objected to a planned review by the state auditor. Such an audit, one board member actually said at that meeting, "would be unwarranted especially in the current economic times."

This past week, in the wake of the 9News story, Colorado lawmakers said they'll investigate the E-470 toll road executives.

Which sounds a bit like the blind driving the blind.

rangerrich@csindy.com

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