For a moment, it seemed like the battle over Jefferson Parkway was entering a kumbaya era. Late last year, Golden, Boulder and Boulder County all announced they were considering deals to lift their longstanding opposition to the toll road in exchange for certain payoffs from Jefferson County.

The proposed road — through a ten-mile stretch of open land between state highways 128 and 93 — would complete the final segment of the metro-area beltway. If not for a trick of topography that puts Golden directly at the nine o'clock mark on the beltway circle, the project might have been completed years ago. Instead, Golden officials have watched with growing anxiety as construction of the beltway has ticked counterclockwise in various segments: First came C-470 in 1985, then the E-470 tollway in the '90s, and, finally, the Northwest Parkway in Broomfield, which opened in 2003 but was later leased to a private operator.

Over the past fourteen years, Golden has spent $3.3 million on lawyers and lobbyists fighting the project, armed with traffic studies detailing the thousands of additional vehicles the beltway would funnel through the city every day via 93 and U.S. Highway 6. Boulder and Boulder County have also opposed the beltway because of the development it would spur in the area.

But development — and the increased tax base and employment it would bring — is also one of the reasons why Jefferson County and the City of Arvada have been determined to make the road a reality. In 2007, the two governments partnered with Broomfield to form the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, a quasi-public entity created under state law to facilitate construction of the tollway. The JPPHA is currently seeking bids from private companies that would finance the $204 million construction of the toll road and then operate it under a long-term lease. The obvious front-runner is BRISA Auto-estradas; the Portuguese tolled-motorway operator cut a deal in 2007 that earned it a 99-year lease on the Northwest Parkway. As part of that transaction, BRISA put $100 million in an escrow account, $60 million of which will go toward Jefferson Parkway; the remaining $40 million will go to the City of Broomfield if construction is started before 2018. If the project hasn't taken off before then, the money goes back to BRISA.

In order to make the project more appealing for investors, Jefferson County began talking with the groups that oppose the road in mid-2010.

For Boulder, the carrot being offered is Section 16, a 640-acre property at the southwestern corner of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge that Jefferson County has traditionally eyed for future commercial development. Under the agreement, Jeffco would put up half of the $10 million needed to purchase the parcel from the Colorado Land Board, the trustee of certain state-owned properties. Boulder and Boulder County would each pitch in $2 million, and help Jeffco raise the last $1 million; ultimately the land would be established as open space. In return, both Boulder's city and county governments would agree to take a neutral position on the construction of the toll road.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County officials attempted to woo Golden away from its anti-parkway stance by proposing to pay the design and engineering costs for some of the many road-improvement projects the city has been seeking. Mayor Jacob Smith still considers the Jefferson Parkway a "stupid" project that would trigger unwanted development and increase traffic in Golden, but a decision early last year by the Denver Regional Council of Governments to add the parkway to its regional transportation plan has limited Golden's options for blocking the project.

"While we have some leverage to potentially delay or kill the Jefferson Parkway (and we've been effective so far), that leverage isn't unlimited," Smith wrote in a December 10 letter to Golden residents detailing the proposed compromise. "And no one has to my knowledge come up with a plan for funding $150 or $200 million worth of the projects we want in Golden."

Backers of the Jefferson Parkway thought they'd finally appeased the opposition and put the project on a fast track to completion by 2015 — but then, last month, events took a new turn.

On February 3, Boulder mayor Susan Osborne and Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman sent a letter asking Ken Salazar, the former Colorado senator who now heads the Department of the Interior, to delay the sale of a hundred-acre sliver along the east side of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the JPPHA. The $2.8 million land purchase is key to obtaining the necessary right-of-way for the toll road.

In response to that letter, then-Jefferson County Commissioner Kevin McCasky sent his own missive to Salazar, noting that the Boulder effort to "thwart the transfer of the transportation right of way not only delays progress on the Jefferson Parkway, but also prevents completion of the agreement and acquisition of Section 16."

McCasky, the driving force behind the Jefferson Parkway project, was elected Jefferson County commissioner in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. But he recently resigned his commissioner seat to take a job as head of the Jefferson Economic Council, a business group deeply involved in local politics and development that has commissioned several studies advocating completion of the beltway.

A February 16 article in the Columbine Courier reported that McCasky had encouraged his fellow county commissioners to increase JEC funding from $380,000 to $400,000 even while he was under consideration for the economic-council position. "It appears as though McCasky abused his position as county commissioner for private gain, either gaining increased consideration of his candidacy for the position at the JEC or an increased budget for the organization he would work for in the future, or both," said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, when his group filed a complaint against McCasky with the state ethics commission last week. McCasky dismisses any suggestion that his latest vote had anything to do with a possible job offer. "Over the years, I have voted seven times as county commissioner to fund the Jefferson Economic Council," he responds. "I have run campaigns where I've been very clear that I believe that the Jefferson Parkway is critical to the economic condition of the county. I have never been bashful about that."

The plan hit another bump, at a nearly four-hour public meeting on February 24, the Golden City Council voted to rebuff Jefferson County's initial offer, which would have committed $1.5 million to plan for a new road interchange. Instead, Golden's negotiators have been instructed go back to the table with a lengthy list of demands, including one that would require a solid agreement to fully fund key improvements to intersections and roads in the city, and another insisting that any contract with a future toll-road concessionaire exclude what critics have dubbed "non-compete agreements" — i.e. ,clauses that makes it cost-prohibitive for governments to improve local roads in a manner that might cut into a toll road's bottom line. Golden's attorneys are already at work on legal filings in case such a deal can't be reached and the JPPHA continues to move forward with the road.

"Our ability to keep obstructing and maybe killing the Jefferson Parkway, for us to give that up, we've got to get a lot in exchange," Smith says. "So to actually get the projects built that we need for our town is really important."

Golden has also sent its own letter to Interior Secretary Salazar, asking for a delay in the sale of the Rocky Flats land. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson, staff are working to finalize the legal documents necessary for the property sale, though they do not yet have a projected closing date.

JPPHA director Bill Ray doesn't see any of Golden's recent actions as an insurmountable roadblock to the parkway. "Golden's stated position is actually encouraging, because instead of saying they're just simply going to oppose it, they've put on the table their willingness to sit down and begin negotiations," he says. "Understanding that there is still significant opposition, the result still holds the possibility for us to settle this thing amicably."

Golden City Councilman Bob Vermeulen says he thinks that Jefferson County officials "have done a really good job in the past six to twelve months of dividing" the opposition. "And it doesn't surprise me that, with a little bit of effort and the backing of our communities, that willingness to come back together as a coalition seems pretty likely right now."

Or, as Rob Medina, president of Citizens Involved in the Northwest Quadrant, sums it up: "If this toll road is going to get built, they're going to have to pay the toll."

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7 comments
Roadjunky
Roadjunky

Why not update hwy 93? 120th? in order to make the beltway connect? Is this for suburban development or transportation? I think the answer is obvious. Jeffco will just tax us with a bond to build it, then tax use to drive it, and lease it to a foreign company while destroying existing roadways like Indiana. Plus, what happens when you start digging up the rocky flats? Don't tell me it is safe...that is a flat out lie. This project is a bad idea except for developers. We can't fund our schools, but we can go even more bankrupt building non-essential roads, this is a total scam.

A frequent visitor
A frequent visitor

Typical Boulder comment from Broomfieldonian: "freeways are only good until I move in, after that you peasants should all ride the light rail, once YOU build it." Look, if you want to drive along on a 2 lane paved-over horse-track between Boulder and Golden, KNOCK YOURSELF OUT. Please, stay off the freeway, parkway or whatever. Stick to city streets, if at all possible. The rest of us don't even WANT to go to Golden, we just want to get beyond it with out putting up with the earth-friendly types who erroneously equate bandwidth with development ("bandwidth is only good when it speeds up my i-Pad downloads"). If you don't want the development, fine. No off-ramps. Done. We don't want to stop in Golden. It's basically in the way, and we'd prefer to go around it as much as Golden would prefer us not to move in. Win-win.

Broomfieldonian
Broomfieldonian

I drive from Broomfield to Golden and back a couple times each week. Would it be worth $5 or so in toll to shave 5 minutes off my trip? I don't think so. I enjoy the present drive through one of the few remaining bits of open space left in the metro area. Why do we need to sprawl into every last acre of space? Really. I've seen Colorado population triple in the last 50 years I've resided in the metro area. It seemed crowded and traffic was bad back then. When will it stop?Why don't we see plans for light rail to connect Broomfield and Golden, if it is such an important corridor. You notice this article is all about dangling a carrot (a bribe) in front of the officials till they cave. Seems Golden is looking for a tastier carrot, at which point nothing stands in the way of our last bits of metro front range prairie being turned into urban wasteland.

Interesting that when they built the Flatirons Mall and Interloken they weren't planning on any highway going through, so in the long run it will cost millions more to create a connection onto the NW Parkway at hwy 36.

Terry Wilcox
Terry Wilcox

This highway proposal is all wrong. CO Hwy 93 is poorly sited to be part of the beltway as it too close to the mountains , far too distant from development, has too much wildlife nearby, and is subjected to insufferable weather much of the winter making it highly unsafe and impractical. CO-93 is this state's version of the Sno-Chi Minh Trail, the stretch of I-80 in Wyoming between Laramie and Rawlins where weather makes travel very dangerous much of the year. The primary north-south route should be along Indiana Avenue from 120th Avenue through just south of 58th Avenue and then intersect at I-70 between Ward Road and CO Hwy 58, just east of Mount Olivet Cemetery. Jeffco, Arvada, and other governments are being foolish in trying to route this transportation corridor in such a poor location.

William Fickas
William Fickas

The proposed toll road does not complete the beltway. It stops short of both the Northwest Parkway in the north and C-470 in the south.

COisdoomed
COisdoomed

A typical Holier than Thou, Escalade driving, outa my way Techno Geek (have no idea what you are saying about bandwidth), who are the one's responsible for the horrendous state of of our once beautiful State. We don't need to attract people and business to Colorado, we need to tell them to pass us by. Read ex.Gov. Dick Lamm's "The Angry West: A Vulnerable Land and Its Future"

Jared Jacang Maher
Jared Jacang Maher

Brisa has set aside $60 million to essentially extend the Northwest Parkway from its current terminus just north of US36 to Hwy128 if the proposed tollway gets built. It is true that the Jefferson Parkway would not be built through Golden. But if it is built, there would technically be a multi-lane road circling the entirety of the metro area, which is the typical definition of a beltway.

 
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