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The Blacktop Jungle

Are the series of superhighways inching their way around Denver a "beltway"--or a noose?

"I honestly believe it will be built someday," insists Lawrence. "The question is, are we going to plan ahead or wait for it when we're desperate?"

The Northwest Parkway proposal is tangled up with Arvada's plans for a vast expansion into the grasslands and mountains west of the city. Arvada has an agreement with developer Howard Lacy to work together on Lacy's proposed 18,000-acre Jefferson Center, a sprawling complex of offices, industrial parks, retail and housing that would extend from Indiana Street all the way into Coal Creek Canyon. Arvada has been annexing much of this land and has been involved in an ongoing fight with residents of the area who hate the whole idea of massive development along the foothills.

"Out here, we're hanging on to a little crumb of what used to be a beautiful expanse of the Front Range," says Doris DePenning, a Coal Creek Canyon resident who opposes the proposed beltway.

Arvada is so gung-ho about encouraging new growth to the west of the city that the town has resisted plans by the Jefferson County Open Space department to buy up land in the foothills along Colorado 93. The city has long been envious of neighboring Westminster's enormous regional mall, and talk of one day building a huge shopping center at the intersection of highways 93 and 72 is a tantalizing dream for the suburb.

Regional malls and office parks require easy access, though, and currently there is none in that part of Jefferson County. If Golden and Wheat Ridge have their way, there never will be. The two cities are vehemently opposed to the whole idea of the beltway, and their opposition may prevent it from ever happening.

"If a major freeway comes through Golden, it will destroy the community," says Golden city manager Mike Bestor. "There really isn't any good reason to build a highway through here. We're saying you're not going to destroy one of the oldest communities in the metro area to help build new development. It would put another 100,000 cars a day through here."

Bestor says Goldenites are already weary of the traffic from Sixth Avenue and Highway 58 that streams through the city, and there is almost unanimous opposition to a new beltway.

In nearby Wheat Ridge, the city fears the project will divert funds needed to maintain existing roads. "There are a lot of other options that would be more beneficial to citizens than this freeway," says former Wheat Ridge city councilman Vance Edwards. "Citizens have made it clear they have no interest in it. It's a boondoggle to benefit one developer. It will encourage sprawl and destroy a lovely part of the county."

Edwards represents Wheat Ridge on a county committee charged with making long-term transportation plans. During a meeting last month he got into an angry exchange with Lawrence over the proposed beltway. "You can call it W-470, the Northwest Parkway or Fluffy the Cat, but it just doesn't seem to die," he told her. "Just when you think it's finally dead, it pops up again."

"Well, Fluffy has nine lives," retorted Lawrence.
The beltway is primarily an economic development vehicle for Arvada, insists Edwards. "Arvada is out of control in dealing with growth," he says. "They never met a developer they didn't like. If I have anything to say about it, Fluffy will get neutered."

But Lawrence says the area will be developed with or without the beltway and that the longer the county waits, the more it will cost to build the highway. "That growth is coming," she adds. "They're going to have to get their heads out of the sand in Golden. I'm disappointed that they've chosen to pooh-pooh the whole idea."

The conflict between cities in Jefferson County is very different from the solid support suburbs in Adams and Arapahoe counties offered E-470, and it makes the construction of the Northwest Parkway unlikely anytime soon. But the development lobby never stops pushing for new roads, and the idea won't just go away.

Dick Lamm knows firsthand the kinds of pressure public officials can come under to fund new highways. Looking back, he says he thinks he mishandled the dispute over C-470 as a result of youthful arrogance. But the former governor still believes beltways are a bad idea.

"I think history will say beltways are not a solution but a problem," he says. "Beltways are consumptive of taxpayer money, water and clean air. What's next, I-4701, I-4702 and I-4703? This is how they built Los Angeles. Tell me what we're doing differently than Los Angeles did.

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