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Golden mayor Jacob Smith reveals how the Jefferson Parkway deal took a wrong turn

After months of negotiations put in gear by Governor John Hickenlooper and Don Hunt, his head of the Colorado Department of Transportation, Golden has definitely put the brakes on a deal that would have had that town sign off on plans for the Jefferson Parkway -- in exchange for $57 million in transportation improvements. Golden mayor Jacob Smith, who'll leave office in two weeks, offers this explanation on his website:

For two decades now, Golden has been fighting proposals to build a beltway through our community. We have been successful so far: there is no beltway plowing through Golden, and a couple of years ago CDOT set aside its own plan to push a six- or eight-lane high-speed superhighway through town. But the proponents - primarily Jefferson County, Arvada, and Broomfield - came up with an alternative plan to build a ten-mile toll highway north of Golden (not through Golden) using private investment dollars.

We've been fighting that proposal as well, but it's much tougher for us to stop because it isn't within our city limits and because it doesn't directly rely on public funding. And, moreover, Golden has very real transportation challenges - congestion, air pollution, safety problems, highway noise - that we probably can't solve while Golden is fighting with these other jurisdictions. In fact, Golden will experience substantial increases in traffic over the next couple of decades with or without the Jefferson Parkway. Golden's own "Golden Plan" spells out our own vision for appropriate transportation improvements: four lanes limited to 45mph, strict noise limits, replacing traffic lights with grade separated interchanges (designed with pedestrians and bikes at the forefront). With improvements like these, even if the Jefferson Parkway is built, Golden will fare better than we are faring today, with less congestion, reduced noise and air pollution, dramatically improved safety for vehicles and everyone else, and improved connections between our western neighborhoods and the rest of town.

And because of the way transportation dollars are allocated, Golden almost certainly can't get the improvements we need in town until we reach some sort of agreement with Jeffco, Arvada, and Broomfield. In other words, we can keep fighting the Jefferson Parkway, but it's a tough fight to win and doing so basically precludes us from getting the improvements we actually want. This has been our basic dilemma as a community for a long time.

Last February, City Council unanimously adopted an updated position on the Jefferson Parkway based on an intensive three-month community input process. A majority of the community supported striving for an agreement to end the dispute but only if the protections for Golden were much stronger. That's the position Golden took: the city would be willing to drop its opposition to the Jefferson Parkway (but not the beltway) if, in return, Golden gets the improvements we need and the protections we deserve.

After an intensive negotiation process spanning many months now, we came close to reaching an agreement that we felt would truly protect Golden from the impacts of growth and development north of town. But ultimately we were unable to agree on provisions we believed would protect Golden from tolling or lane widening being forced on us. An agreement that might result in tolling or lane-widening being forced through town has always been unacceptable.

We appreciate the Governor's effort to help these neighboring communities resolve a multi-decade dispute, and we appreciate the effort everyone - Jeffco, Arvada, Broomfield, CDOT, and the facilitator - put in to try and get there. But in the end we were unable to reach terms that worked for everyone.

We will continue taking the steps we believe necessary to protect Golden, but we remain open to a continued discussion with our neighbors about a solution that truly meets the needs of all of the communities. I also believe that it's time for a major update to the Golden Plan (which was first adopted as the Muller Plan in 2003), and I am encouraging the new City Council to kick off a community process for doing just that in 2012. This will be a chance for everyone to think through what improvements we want and how to prioritize them.

I would have been pleased to reach an agreement that ended two decades of war between neighboring jurisdictions before my term ended; the fight is expensive, it limits our ability to make the improvements we need, and it makes it very difficult for Jefferson County communities to collaborate on other important issues. I still believe a good agreement would be better for all of the communities involved. But I have no qualms rejecting something that doesn't truly protect Golden.

This will remain a very challenging issue for our community. The proponents are not likely to give up their tollway ambitions, and growth and traffic increases in northern Jefferson County are going to impact Golden regardless of whether the Jefferson Parkway is built. I wish the new Council the very best of luck in navigating between less-than-ideal options, and I look forward to contributing as a member of the Golden community to the discussions we will no doubt continue to have in the years ahead.

The Golden deal was just part of complicated negotiations involving plans for the Jefferson Parkway. A proposed land swap -- which would allow the road to take over a right-of-way on the eastern edge of Rocky Flats, along Indiana Street, in exchange for the plutonium-processing-plant turned-wildlife refuge getting a big open-space parcel on the southwestern corner, purchased by Jefferson County and the City of Boulder and Boulder County -- is still in the works. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is slated to sign off on that deal in the next few weeks -- although the town of Superior has sued to stop it. The secrets of Rocky Flats occasionally spill out. After federal judge Sherman Finesilver passed away, boxes of documents about the case that had grown out of the EPA/FBI raid on the plant wound up at the Denver Public Library -- but the Justice department was quick to lock those back up. Read about it in Patricia Calhoun's Wake-Up Call from August 2009.


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