Plans for building a 10-mile toll road in northern Jefferson County to complete a loop of highway around the Denver-metro area are rolling forward.
“The parkway continues to make steady progress,” said Bill Ray, interim executive director of …
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1968 — The Federal Highway Administration begins studies to build a six-lane, 70 mph 100 mile-beltway then called Interstate 470, to loop around the entire Denver metro area.
1982 — Construction begins on Centennial Parkway, which is now called Colorado State Highway 470 (C-470). It opened in stages, with the last section completed in October 1990.
1991 — The first segment of the E-470 tollway opens on June 1. The final segment opens on Jan. 3, 2003.
2001 — In June, construction of the Northwest Parkway begins, and the highway opens to traffic in November 2003. Toll collection commences on Jan. 1, 2004.
2008 — The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) has its first board meeting on May 22.
2012 — City of Golden and the Town of Superior sue to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from transferring a 300-foot right-of-way to the JPPHA. The lawsuit fails.
2016 — With the purchase of 4.3 acres in November, all right-of-way land needed to construct the parkway is now owned by either JPPHA or its member governments.
2017 — First of several community open house meetings takes place on July 25.
“The parkway continues to make steady progress,” said Bill Ray, interim executive director of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA). “We’re confident that we sit where there is a window of opportunity.”
The toll road refers to the proposed Jefferson Parkway. It is intended to close the gap between State Highway 128 in Broomfield and State Highway 93 near West 58th Avenue, north of Golden.
The Jefferson Parkway “is another important connection for the system to be complete,” said Arvada City Councilor David Jones. “It will give commuters another way to get to where they’re going, allowing people more choices to travel around the Denver metro area.”
Currently, the parkway is undergoing a three-part access permitting process with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).
The first step, a traffic impact study to forecast conditions up to year 2040, was completed and submitted to CDOT last fall, Ray said. The second step is coming up with proposed engineering solutions to handle future traffic conditions, and the third step is an environmental review of those proposed improvements.
“The engineering solutions are being developed now, as is the environmental review,” he said. “Those will be submitted to CDOT around November 2017 for CDOT review and approval.”
Once CDOT gives its approval, the parkway’s planning, design and financing can begin in earnest, Ray said.
The parkway has long been in process. The JPPHA formed in May 2008 and is made up of representatives from Jefferson County, the City and County of Broomfield and the City of Arvada. At that time, participating governments each gave $100,000 for initial startup funding. The JPPHA board also has two non-voting members — representatives from the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Regional Air Quality Council.
Initial ideas to construct a six-lane, 70 mph beltway of about 100 miles that looped around the entire Denver metro area came about in the late 1960s. Studies included what is today’s E-470, a toll highway that runs along the eastern perimeter of metro Denver; the Northwest Parkway, a toll road in the north metro Denver area; and Colorado State Highway 470 (C-470), which runs along the southwestern portion of metro Denver.
The missing link — the Jefferson Parkway — has been a long time coming, said Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada), who serves on the Senate transportation committee.
Transportation is one of the major functions of government, she said, and the state is currently grappling with a number of transportation funding issues.
“The approach they’re (the JPPHA) taking makes sense,” Zenzinger said, “given the financial picture of the state.”
Some oppose parkway
Along with the extensive history leading up to the current progress on the Jefferson Parkway, there has been much opposition.
In 2012, the City of Golden and the Town of Superior filed a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from transferring a 300-foot right-of-way to the JPPHA for the construction of Jefferson Parkway. The lawsuit said the Fish and Wildlife Service did not adequately consider the environmental impacts of transferring the land to JPPHA.
The lawsuit failed, but Golden upheld its opposition of having the highway run through the city. Golden believed it would cause significant, negative impacts to the community, said Dan Hartman, Golden’s public works director.
These impacts would have included not only a wide, noisy, high-speed highway through Golden, but also a barrier separating one part of the community from another.
To come to an agreement, Golden worked with CDOT on how much road capacity was actually needed, Hartman said, and the portion that would have run through Golden was dropped.
“We agreed to improvements along U.S. 6 and SH 93 that would meet those (road capacity) needs, while CDOT agreed to specific conditions developed (by the city of Golden) for highway improvements,” Hartman said.
The most important of those conditions, he said, included that any highway will not be built with more than four lanesunless specified traffic volumes are reached; for speeds to remain the same as they are today; interchanges to connect the community, such as the city’s current construction project at U.S. 6 and 19th Street; and that existing lanes remain free, but new capacity could be tolled.
“The city is no longer concerned about the parkway,” Hartman said, but added that Golden’s opinion on the remaining portion yet to be constructed is that it “is a bad project that will not succeed in reducing congestion, and as a tolled road, is not viable.”
The Town of Superior is concerned about traffic and noise implications, said Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Pennington, but even more about potential health and safety threats to residential areas near construction of the parkway. These concerns are too risky compared to any need for a new highway, she said.
“My No. 1 job as an elected official is to protect the health and safety of my residents,” Pennington said.
Indiana Street is a road used by Superior commuters, she said, and it borders Rocky Flats. Anybody driving on that road during construction of the parkway could potentially be exposed to contaminants from the eastern border of Rocky Flats.
The Rocky Flats Plant served as the nation’s primary nuclear weapons trigger production facility from 1951 until 1992, but nuclear weapons production ceased in 1989 to address environmental and safety concerns raised by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board.
The operations caused widespread contamination throughout portions of the 6,200-acre site. A 10-year cleanup began in 1995, and about 4,000 acres were transferred to the U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007 to be protected as the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
“There are potential health and safety consequences of digging up soil along Indiana to build the parkway,” Pennington said. “These are potentially lethal contaminants. They’re not to be taken lightly.”
Parkway would bring economic benefits
The JPPHA hopes to finalize a public-private partnership by the end of 2019, Ray said. The private partner would finance, build, operate and maintain the parkway. The goal is for construction of the Jefferson Parkway to take place from 2020-2022.
“A community’s mobility is one of the most fundamental and important characteristics of economic activity,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Donald Rosier, who serves on the JPPHA board. “Transportation is an important component of the economy with a direct impact on the development and welfare of populations.”
When transport systems are efficient, he said, they provide economic and social benefits, resulting in positive effects such as better access to markets, employment and additional investments. And when transport systems are deficient, he added, in terms of capacity or reliability, they can be a costly to the economy, contributing to a lower quality of life.
Rosier noted he supported Jefferson Parkway long before he was first elected to become a county commissionerin 2010.
“By providing residents and business owners within Jefferson County a safe and efficient travel option, we, in essence, are investing into Jefferson County for its long-term stability,” Rosier said.
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