COVER STORY TRANSPORTATION Shoshana Lew

Shoshana Lew, director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, speaks with Kyle Lester, CDOT's director of maintenance and operations, at a news conference on avalanches in 2019.

Shoshana Lew, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, will give a major speech on accountability and transparency as the foundation of the governor's 10-year priority plan on the Western Slope Friday morning, according to planning documents.

Lew and other state officials are in Grand Junction for the spring meeting of Club 20, the influential Western Slope coalition of business and civic leaders.

Colorado Politics has written extensively about the much-anticipated plan and its components, including the major projects the Polis administration is considering, if it can find the money.

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Those include continuing the expansion of Interstate 25 up and down the Front Range, a major fix of the bottleneck at Floyd Hill on Interstate 70 and what's expected to be the largest expansion of rural road building in state history.

Lew conducted a statewide listening tour last year to gather feedback from community members.

Lawmakers have tried and failed to broker deals to pay for transportation in past legislative sessions, and voters have repeatedly rejected ballot initiatives to put more money into roads and bridges

Lew is expected to deliver her remarks alongside Republican state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and regional transportation commissioner Kathy Hall.

Polis and fellow Democrats who control the General Assembly also are moving aggressively toward greener transportation alternatives, including a commuter rail line that connects Front Range population centers.

The train will not be part of the 10-year plan,  Lew told Colorado Politics in an interview this month, as a special commission continues to work on feasibility issues, including how to raise the hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars that such a project would take.

The highway director in Grand Junction is expected to talk about how CDOT would spend an extra $500 million a year for the next decade above its normal budget of roughly $2 billion, which is supplied mostly by gas taxes.

Lew and past legislatures set aside the extra money for the first four years of the 10-year plan. They or taxpayers will have to find funding for the other six years to bring the plan to roads, bridges and rural communities near you.

"That is why we are taking these concrete steps to make ourselves even more transparent and accountable to Coloradans," according to CDOT planning materials for the speech obtained by Colorado Politics. "After all, these are your dollars we receive, and we owe it to you to show that we are effective with them."

Lew is expected to say the department changed its "spending targets" so "more money is spent on the road — where the public can see and feel our work."

She will cover the work she has done to clean up accounting problems she inherited from the Hickenlooper administration, as Colorado Politics has chronicled, that were laid out in a scathing audit and rebukes from lawmakers last year.

Besides internal savings, Lew's "accountability program," as she's expected to call it in the speech, also will examine the department's relationship with contractors.

"We are tightening the controls around projects so that they are clearly defined, well-executed, and have firm timelines," her speech notes say. "We have also reevaluated the processes that build project scopes and timelines to remove pieces that keep projects open longer than needed."

CDOT's future budgets will be available online with detailed tracking on larger projects that take more than a year to complete. Software will flag irregular patterns and "unusual budget requests" that would tip the agency off to potential fraud and trigger investigations.

Lew cut $500,000 last year from CDOT's spending on out-of-state travel and for conferences between 2015 and 2018 — a 70% cut from what the last administration spent.

“We also worked with the Transportation Commission to reprioritize about $11 million a year towards common sense safety improvements, like better and more visible highway striping, and to find more cost effective ways to remain a leader in emerging areas like preparing Colorado for shared, connected, autonomous and electric transportation technologies," she is expected to say.

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