The Jefferson Parkway is no stranger to delays and setbacks, having been part of a Denver-metro beltway vision that originated in the 1960s.
Construction of the final segment — a toll road intended to close the gap between state highways 93 and 128 known as the Jefferson Parkway — is finally on the horizon.
But nearing the fall of 2019, two issues must be resolved before the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) can proceed forward: Broomfield, one of the three partners behind the parkway, may pull out. And a soil sample taken from the proposed right of way near Rocky Flats has revealed there may be too much contamination in the ground to construct a highway.
“Given that this is a complex project more than 50 years in the making, it is not surprising that parts of the puzzle have moved over time, creating dialogue and sometimes delay,” said Bill Ray, executive director of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA).
These delays, and the ones that have come before them, reflect the ongoing community conversations revolving around the perceived benefits and drawbacks of the road.
Supporters advocate for the parkway because they feel it is an infrastructure project necessary in a time when public funds for transportation are little to none. Advocates say the parkway will promote economic growth in the communities on its proposed route.
Opposers fear the parkway’s negative environmental side effects, such as potential public health risks posed by the project’s proximity to Rocky Flats. Some claim that construction will stir up dirt contaminated with plutonium at the site, which has been shown to cause cancer.
The Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation continues to advocate for the completion of the Jefferson Parkway, said Leigh Seeger, Jeffco EDC’s vice president of economic development.
“As an organization that focuses on the retention, expansion and attraction of primary employers, we know how critical an efficient and accessible regional transportation system is for the business community,” Seeger said. “The current transportation congestion along this corridor is becoming increasingly dangerous, negatively impacting quality of life and jeopardizing the region’s economic vitality.”
With Broomfield’s decision tentatively scheduled for September, those who will be affected by the parkway continue to weigh the pros and cons the road will have in their everyday lives.
“While it (the Jefferson Parkway) will not really have an impact on our business, we expect that it will be of great benefit to our employees,” said Tom Aniello, VP of marketing for Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd., “as it will make commuting to and from work much easier.”
Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd. is a subsidiary of the namesake Swiss company that manages sales and service of Pilatus business jets and turboprops. At its Broomfield location at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (RMMA), Pilatus employs about 110 people, Aniello said.
He added that the high cost of housing in the northwest Denver/Boulder corridor has caused many of Pilatus’ employees to have to commute long distances to work.
“Anything that can be done to make their commute easier will help our recruiting and retention efforts,” Aniello said.
To the southwest of the airport, the Woman Creek Reservoir sits adjacent to the proposed parkway’s path, just west of Standley Lake. The reservoir ensures runoff from the Rocky Flats site does not enter Standley Lake, storing the water until it can be tested for contamination and confirmed clean.
Tamara Moon of the Woman Creek Reservoir Authority (WCRA) said because the site is not intended for visitors, and the highway will not impact the function of the reservoir, the authority is neutral on the parkway itself.
However, Moon and the WCRA believe the parkway’s construction could pose a safety threat because of its route along the edge of the Rocky Flats buffer zone, where plutonium, a type of nuclear waste, has contaminated the soil.
To evaluate the project’s safety risk, the JPPHA has helped oversee a soil test that took hundreds of samples from the soil in the parkway right of way. Some samples have yet to be analyzed, but on Aug. 16, Ray reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) that one sample showed more than five times the amount of plutonium deemed safe by authorities — 264 pCi/g instead of 50.
The sample was tested a second time and showed 1.5 pCi/g.
Analyzers are now running more tests to determine which result is more accurate, with Ray saying the JPPHA “will follow (CDPHE’s) lead on next steps.”
However, for those who oppose the parkway for safety reasons, the sample represents one of several indicators that the project could cause health problems for the community members living near the road — and, Moon said, for everyone else.
“Some of us on the WCRA are also active with the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council because (nuclear waste) is a global issue,” she said. “We’re going to keep our eyes and ears open (to) make sure the process is done in a safe way.”
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