Why Golden put the brakes on the Jefferson Parkway land swap

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Despite the efforts of Governor John Hickenlooper and Don Hunt, the head of the Colorado Department of Transportation, the negotiations with Golden, Jefferson County and the group that would build the Jefferson Parkway wound up going nowhere...fast. In mid-December, Golden outlined a $57 million transportation deal that town would get if it bought into the project. But a week later, Golden put on the brakes.

"Don Hunt did a spectacular job," says Hickenlooper. "There was so much frustration on all sides. He deserves some kind of medal."

The beltway project has been the subject of much acrimonious discussion in the northwest suburbs for decades. This latest dust-up involves a proposed trade that would give the Jefferson Parkway a right-of-way along the eastern edge of Rocky Flats, in exchange for a parcel at the southwestern corner -- jointly purchased by Boulder, Boulder County and Jefferson County -- being added to the plutonium-processing-plant-turned-wildlife refuge.

The price of the mineral rights to that parcel will go up by a million bucks in 2012, which added impetus to getting the deal done now. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to sign off on the right-of-way transfer sometime in January -- but the town of Superior filed suit to stop it on December 16, the day after Fish and Wildlife revealed that it was only considering the Jefferson Parkway Authority pitch.

And now Golden, whose own proposal to take over the right-of-way for a bike path was rejected by the feds, has rejected the deal that would have sealed its approval of the swap. If it had signed off on the deal, it would have gotten $57 million in transportation improvements. "They got up to the $57 million, but they never had a firm way to absolutely pay for it," Hickenlooper notes. That raised fears that Highway 93 would become some kind of toll road.

Here's the latest announcement from the town:

Dec. 28, 2011 -- As we reported on Dec. 24, negotiations between Golden, Jefferson County, Arvada, the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) ended without an agreement on transportation issues related to the proposed Jefferson Parkway.

We greatly appreciate the leadership of Governor John Hickenlooper and CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt, who initiated and energetically supported the negotiations. They attempted to help our region move past two decades of debate to find common ground. We participated in the negotiations in the same spirit.

A good agreement would have benefited Golden and the surrounding region. It would have ended Golden's long-running dispute with Arvada and Jefferson County, allowing us to turn the page on a sometimes acrimonious past and collaborate productively on these and other issues facing our region. It also would have allowed us to bring to a close a long and expensive beltway battle while providing funding for transportation improvements that are needed within our city.

But, while we set our sights on an agreement, we never took our eyes off our community's bottom line. For us, the ultimate test for an agreement was whether it protected Golden from tolling or lane widening being forced through town - in other words, the beltway bisecting Golden that we have consistently opposed. And, despite hundreds of hours spent on constructive negotiations, the balance of provisions was not protective enough to meet the City's needs.

We are certainly disappointed that we were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement. But settling for an agreement that lacked sufficient protections for Golden residents would have been the only failure from which our community couldn't recover. The entire region would benefit from a good agreement but we won't settle for a bad one. When it comes to productive discussions with the state and our regional neighbors on these important issues, our door will remain open.

We've attempted to keep Golden residents apprised of the very latest developments on this issue, communicating candidly to the extent allowed by the ground rules of the negotiations. Moving forward, the 2012 City Council will engage the community in exploring updating the Golden Plan and setting strong priorities for traffic mitigations and improvements in the near future and in the long term. We remain committed to a spirit of openness. We appreciate and encourage the willingness of Golden residents to be fully engaged in this process.

A radioactive wildlife refuge did not make our list of "15 Reasons Denver is the Coolest City." See the slide show here.

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