Of the decade the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) has existed, arguably no year has posed as many roadblocks as 2019 did, with environmental and economic concerns emerging that …
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Of the decade the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) has existed, arguably no year has posed as many roadblocks as 2019 did, with environmental and economic concerns emerging that have cast doubt on the road's future.
The JPPHA formed in 2008 with a plan for the Jefferson Parkway, a proposed toll road that would run through northwest Arvada to connect state highways 93 and 128.
This year the JPPHA was on the verge of choosing a private partner to build the toll road and breaking ground. But as of Dec. 18, the parkway's progress has been stalled out, primarily waiting on the results of an ongoing study of plutonium contamination within th road's right-of-way before moving forward.
Here's an overview of that study, as well as other speed-bumps the parkway encountered this year, and what each of them mean for 2020.
With the parkway route's proximity to the former site of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, multiple residents and community groups have spoken at Arvada and Broomfield city council meetings about concerns that the parkway may cause health problems for nearby residents.
The government closed Rocky Flats in 1989 after several incidents, such as leaks and fires, caused nuclear waste contamination, much of which was buried on-site. A government cleanup was declared completed in 2005, but some still have their doubts about the safety of the area.
Heeding community concerns, the JPPHA launched a soil study of the parkway right-of-way alongside Indiania Street, which skirts the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats buffer zone. The study began in May 2019, with a goal to confirm that the area was safe to build upon, as stated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said Roy Laws, Jefferson County Public Health environmental engineer, in a previous interview.
However, on Aug. 16, the JPPHA alerted the CDPHE that one sample in the study registered a reading of 264 pCi/g of plutonium, where the established safety measure is 50 pCi/g or less.
Further testing of the area through September suggested the reading was an outlier, and when the original sample was tested again, it only showed 2 pCi/g of plutonium, said CDPHE communications manager Laura Dixon.
Even so, JPPHA leaders have stated multiple times they will keep the parkway process at a standstill until the results of the entire study — approximately 250 samples — have been analyzed.
Originally, the full study was to be completed by the end of 2019, Dixon said. However, the analysis has taken longer than anticipated.
“As far as the soil samples report, we are still reviewing and hope to have a full analysis completed in early 2020,” Dixon said. “We will share the report when we get it back from the parkway.”
The parkway will be owned by the JPPHA — made up of Jefferson County, the city of Arvada and the city and county of Broomfield — as a public entity, while financed and maintained by a private partner.
The three government entities have funded the JPPHA's startup costs, right-of-way purchases, impact studies and other expenses. The plan is for the private partner to reimburse the JPPHA, JPPHA executive director Bill Ray previously told Colorado Community Media.
Back in July, Jefferson County budgeted $1 million as a placeholder for JPPHA funds in its 2020 budget.
However, at a November meeting, county commissioners cut that placeholder to $400,000, as they lacked a total of about $16.1 million to balance their budget and needed to make cuts.
Despite having the $400,000 in the budget, the county has yet to decide if it will truly allocate that amount to the JPPHA. The commissioners will need to approve each allocation to the JPPHA, which would draw from the $400,000 if approved, deputy county manager Kate Newman said.
In addition to environmental concerns, one reason to hold funding for the parkway could be economic concerns.
The county, Arvada and Broomfield have long supported the parkway, believing it will boost the economy of the northwest Arvada area and reduce traffic congestion throughout the region.
These expectations previously led Arvada to plan for about 7.2 million square-feet of commercial development to be built in the Candelas area adjacent to the parkway.
However, at a December Arvada city council meeting, Gregg Bradbury said that plan was no longer feasible. Bradbury is treasurer with Jefferson Center Metro District 2 and works with Church Ranch Companies, which has been responsible for commercial development in Candelas, including the creation of the King Soopers on Candelas Parkway.
Competition is one reason that fewer companies may be willing to locate in the Candelas area, he said.
Having developed property in the area as well as along US 36, “it just makes sense from a business standpoint that many people would rather locate on 36,” he said. “There's a lot of land still, and your employers and businesses would rather have a free highway system (than a toll road).”
Additionally, fewer businesses may be attracted to the parkway simply because “the world has changed” since the Candelas plan was created around 2006, he said.
“Everybody's shopping on Amazon, and you can do your job from home,” he said. “The parkway will help, but it won't help us to the tune of bringing in 7.2 million square feet,” he said, suggesting around 1.2 million square feet may be more feasible.
A third possible holdup centers around Broomfield's continued involvement in the JPPHA. Throughout the second half of 2019, Broomfield city council held multiple discussions on the safety concerns of the parkway.
The council ultimately voted to set aside $2.5 million for the parkway in its 2020 budget, but only as a placeholder.
“It doesn't commit us to spending it — not a penny,” then-councilmember Mike Shelton said at the Oct. 22 budget hearing. “That's a decision we would make at some other point.”
That decision will likely occur in the beginning of 2020, said Mayor Pat Quinn.
Because of the location of the parkway — it is much closer to Arvada than to Broomfield — “I am not sure we should be providing a third of the funds,” he said. This would not necessarily mean Broomfield pulls out of the JPPHA completely, but it may consider scaling back its commitment, he said.
Further, “there are a lot of (environmental) questions that the CDPHE has not addressed to this day,” he said. “Rocky Flats is a big deal around Broomfield.”
He added that since the Nov. 5 election, which saw him take the mayoral seat and four new members join the city's 10-member council, “this council's dramatically different and more progressive than the old council.”
Because of the changeup and the ongoing conversation, “I don't think staff will move forward without bringing this (budgeting) decision to the new council,” he said.
Reporter Christy Steadman contributed to this report.
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