Jefferson Parkway now in doubt

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 3/18/20

The idea of connecting the Northwest Parkway with State Highway 93 down to the north of Golden to create an outer-belt freeway around the Denver metro area has been an on-again-off- again thing since …

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Jefferson Parkway now in doubt

Posted

The idea of connecting the Northwest Parkway with State Highway 93 down to the north of Golden to create an outer-belt freeway around the Denver metro area has been an on-again-off- again thing since the 1980’s.

You may recall the ill-fated attempt at creating the W-470 Highway Authority following in the footsteps of the successful E-470 Highway Authority. Voters turned down a proposed fee on every vehicle registration within the affected area. In turn, the vote caused the death of the W-470 authority and connecting the outer belt freeway.

In 2008, Jefferson County, City of Arvada and the City and County of Broomfield formed the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority specifically to complete the highway beltway on the north side. Authority members and Executive Director Bill Ray have had their challenges especially with the looming issue of plutonium levels in the soil adjacent to the proposed route of the toll road.

Plutonium and sufficient traffic need resolution

With the recent findings of a high radiation reading of 264 picocuries of plutonium per gram adjacent to the proposed road alignment on the eastern edge of the former Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant site, it caused concern among some interested parties including the Broomfield City Council.

Let’s interject the fact that Broomfield has not yet paid their $2.5 million contribution for 2019. That tells me that they have been pondering a potential withdrawal from the Authority for some time. To date, Broomfield had contributed $3.4 million while Jefferson County and Arvada had each paid approximately $6.25 million.

On February 25th, the Broomfield City Council unanimously decided to sever ties with the Highway Authority. This action just may have thrown a big enough wrench in the project’s viability to have it come to a screeching halt. Broomfield’s departure is not the only worry for the Jefferson Parkway. One of the three private consortiums which was bidding on the 10-mile highway project dropped out.

The Jefferson Expressway Group decided to drop out last December saying that the potential anticipated toll revenue is not adequate to support the project’s costs by a sizable amount as well as other “ongoing environmental challenges.”

It’s too soon to know the impact of Broomfield’s departure

How does Broomfield’s departure impact the project’s viability? Consider two key standpoints.

First, without Broomfield there to help shoulder some of the costs, it increases the cost burden on Arvada and Jefferson County.

Secondly, if the current proposed alignment is abandoned to swing farther east, Broomfield would have to approve a new alignment. Also, all interest parties and the public are awaiting additional soil analyzes by the state health department regarding plutonium levels in the soil.

A key third factor concerning the project’s future — with or without Broomfield — is the actual viability of the project. Would there be adequate traffic using the toll road and paying the fees to make the project pencil out for the private sector partners? They would be required to pay for the design and construction costs. It is concerning that the Jefferson Expressway Group publicly announced that projected use of the road is significantly below the needed level to make the project financially viable.

Broomfield will be expected to pay

According to the Highway Authority’s Executive Director Bill Ray, it is unknown how the project might progress now that Broomfield has made it clear it doesn’t want to be a part of it. Ray did point out that under the terms of the highway authority agreement a unanimous vote of remaining members is required to allow the other member to exit. A part of any negotiations involving Broomfield’s departure will definitely include financial obligations they are expected to pay off.

The motivation is economic development

The importance of the missing link between the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and State Highway 93 has been debated for many years. Competing traffic engineering studies have drawn differing conclusions and that is where the financial feasibility comes into play.

The City of Golden has been an ardent opponent of the highway link and their version of the traffic study showed it was not a feasible project. Of course, the highway authority’s study concluded it was viable. It would provide a quicker drive time to I-70 for Broomfield and surrounding residents.

The key reason that Jefferson County and Arvada have been so strident in pouring money into the parkway toll road is the economic development opportunities: It would open significant undeveloped land along the proposed alignment.

A gnawing doubt

Personally, I have always had a gnawing doubt about the actual level of clean-up achieved at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Plant site as well as the land downwind from the plant. Therefore, I question the soundness of development in the subject area.

Obviously, the City of Arvada doesn’t seem to be concerned given their approvals on the Candelas development which is extremely popular with homebuyers.

Watching the growing need for
transportation funds

Keep your eye on the City of Boulder as well as Boulder County. Both governmental entities are contemplating transportation-related fees or taxes and I’m flagging this potential set of transportation-related revenue-makers for a reason: Most, if not all, of the cities and counties in the Denver metro area are in serious need of additional revenues for street maintenance and street-related infrastructure construction — including widening arterial streets, bridges and interchanges — to cope with the spiraling increase in traffic.

Given the drought of new revenues from either the state or federal governments, cities and counties are seeing the need to take the initiative themselves to generate new funding.

City fees and County tax proposals

The City of Boulder is evaluating a fee that would be imposed both on residents and businesses. The fee would be billed on city utility bills and would vary depending on the number of vehicle trips each address took. This would be done without a vote of the people.

Boulder County is considering putting a tax on the November ballot. Currently, they are polling to see how an increase in the property tax, lodging tax or sales tax would be supported. Two thirds of the revenue from the tax selected would be earmarked for transportation improvements.

Funding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) improvements on the Diagonal Highway to Longmont would be a priority. The remaining one-third of the revenue would be used for affordable housing.

Don’t be surprised to see cities and the counties in the north area looking at similar tax and fee propositions.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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