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Contractors Say CDOT Is Hiding Costs Of Big Contracts With Out-Of-State Companies

(CBS) - Just two years after a scathing audit, the Colorado Department of Transportation is under scrutiny again for how it awards some contracts and spends taxpayer dollars.

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The Legislative Audit Committee will decide on Monday whether to move forward with a full audit of the agency. It comes as CDOT receives billions of dollars in additional funding from both the state and federal governments.

Some long-time Colorado contractors tell CBS4 that most big projects are going to out-of-state contractors -- and CDOT is hiding the cost of some of those projects. Most of the contractors say they are afraid of retaliation if they speak out.

Rick Davis, owner of Mountain Valley Contracting, was willing to go public. He's built hundreds of roads, runways, and reservoirs on the Western Slope. He's worked construction all his life, including work for CDOT. He says there was a time when the bulk of state work went to in-state contractors. Now, however, he says, most of them get only the smaller dollar jobs -- while the big ones go to out-of-state companies.

"We all want equal opportunity, to at least have a chance right?"

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While CDOT awards smaller projects to contractors with the lowest bid, it uses a different selection method for bigger projects -- only interviewing certain contractors and, of them, two out-of-state companies have won most of the jobs over the last decade.

Many of those jobs have ballooned in price. The widening of I-25 North has gone from $239 million to $478 million. The I-25 South Gap project has gone from $325 million to $419 million.

Despite open records requests, CDOT has refused to release detailed financial data on the projects -- redacting expenditures as basic as tree and dirt removal -- and citing "trade secrets and other proprietary information."

Davis says it shouldn't be secret how taxpayer dollars are spent.

"What are they paying and why would CDOT consider that proprietary?"

CDOT posts detailed cost data on other projects, including every bid submitted and contractors' per unit price for materials.

"How come my information is put out there for the public, and all my competitors, to review and we don't have same ability to review projects that CDOT is awarding in a different fashion?" Davis asks.

He says it's not only unfair to contractors who aren't on CDOT's shortlist, but taxpayers.

"Why are we hiding that cost? I don't understand it."

An audit, he says, may be the only way of getting answers. He says, CDOT should understand that because it requires contractors submit audited financial statements to even qualify for work.

"Why would I, as a contractor, have to submit that to you, CDOT, when you yourself are not audited? And as a taxpayer that concerns me not knowing where all that money is going."

The state auditor conducted an initial review of CDOT at the request of the Legislative Audit Committee, and CBS4 has learned that she also has some questions that only a full audit can answer.

The committee will decide whether to move forward with that audit on Monday.


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