"It was exceedingly clear that there was no money for any improvements in that area until after 2035," says Jefferson County Commissioner Kathy Hartman. "That's 28 years from now. There just isn't any money. The only reasonably viable funding source is a private partner that would be willing to do this under a toll road situation."

The JPPHA hired two firms, PB Americas and Stantec, to manage the Jefferson Parkway project; they were consultants on both E-470 and the Northwest Parkway. But while those highways were built with public bonds, the plan for this venture is to find a "private partner" willing to fund the entire infrastructure investment in exchange for a long-term lease to operate the Jefferson Parkway and collect tolls along the way.

While Bill Ray, deputy city manager of Arvada and JPPHA's interim director, says the authority hasn't gotten any formal queries from companies looking to build the toll road, there's definitely interest. "I certainly have a lot of people who hand me their business cards and say, 'When you guys get ready to do something, if you can give me a call, I'd appreciate it,'" he says.

Golden mayor Jacob Smith
Mark Manger
Golden mayor Jacob Smith

The JPPHA has heard from several mega-investment consortiums in Europe, South America and Australia, and hopes to enter into formal discussions with interested parties this month; boardmembers are currently working to secure the preliminary approvals from local, state and federal transportation authorities that will allow them to seek proposals from investors. At that point, the JPPHA will get into detailed contract negotiations with would-be operators. Right now, the leading contender looks to be Brisa Auto-Estradas.

Broomfield has already earned heavy criticism for its $40 million incentive package from Brisa to push for the beltway's completion. "There is scrutiny on this board that is going to continue until the very end," Quinn told his fellow boardmembers at a December meeting. "We have Golden, that is going to watch everything we do."

McCasky is careful to point out that the JPPHA's mission is simply to link the Northwest Parkway with Highway 93 — not to build a road through Golden. Completing the arterial is critical for transportation in the region, he says, as well as "critical to the economic competitiveness of the county." He cites a 2007 study by the Jefferson Economic Council, which found that completing the beltway would double economic development in the county over the next twenty years — raking in an additional $17 billion — and help make the county an epicenter for the renewable-energy industry.

"We have the National Renewable Energy Lab, the School of Mines — Conoco Philips moving in Broomfield. We have a wonderful triangle of high-tech alternative-energy opportunity," he explains. "There is a need to connect these major employment centers with a transportation arterial."

Both NREL and the Colorado School of Mines are located in Golden, of course. "It is deeply ironic," notes Smith, "and ironic in a disheartening way; it's not funny at all."

Smith has only lived in Golden for five years. He grew up in the Aurora suburbs and watched the construction of the E-470 portion of the beltway; he saw how it spurred development on the east side of the metro area. That sprawling growth was one of his motivations for founding the Center for Native Ecosystems, a Denver-based ecological advocacy group. If Jeffco truly wishes to redefine itself as part of the new green economy, Smith says, it shouldn't push for an outdated transportation model that encourages sprawl and auto-based development.

The Jefferson Economic Council study considered the impact of three areas along the proposed parkway route, and all the projections regarding jobs and housing were based on numbers "provided by the Jefferson Economic Council, developers, property owners and other stakeholders," according to the study. But the only developer and property owner listed in the reference section of the study is Church Ranch Development Company. CRDC owners Charles McKay and Gregg Bradbury, who gave $1,800 to McCasky's recent reelection campaign, own 365 acres in Broomfield adjacent to Rocky Mountain Airport that they hope to develop into housing and a corporate center, as well as 426 acres in west Arvada that will be the first to be developed into the 2,000-acre Candelas.

Beltways don't just bring housing, but the types of large-scale commercial and office development that can make or break a municipality. "The way that our laws work, they pit local governments and cities and counties against each other for sales-tax revenue," says Stephanie Thomas, an open-space advocate with the Colorado Environmental Coalition. "So everybody wants to have the next big development in their area because they have the sales-tax revenue."

The losers in the sales-tax game are the cities that can't land large retailers within their boundaries and have to watch their residents travel to other cities to spend money. When the Northwest Parkway came to fruition, various municipalities scrambled to build five mega-retail projects along the north I-25 corridor ("Malled!" October 20, 2005).

The JEC-funded study also determined that if the highway isn't built, the county would realize roughly half as much in tax revenues from future building over the next twenty years — $180 million with Jefferson Parkway versus $91 million without — because development would focus more on housing than commercial or office. The county is "a property-tax-supported entity," says Jeffco's Hartman. "And on a tax basis, that means that we get a lot less money, because commercial property pays three and a half times the property taxes."

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