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Jefferson Parkway: Who Wins, Who Loses?


SH-93 from

About 10 years ago, Jefferson County commissioners and several north Jeffco cities sponsored the NW Quadrant (Transportation) Feasibility Study, whose purpose was to determine how best to meet the demand for future mobility in north Jeffco.  One of the alternative solutions was to build a high-speed, limited access highway connecting the planned NW (toll) Parkway with C-470 and I-70 in Golden.  However, the feasibility study report concluded that the best way to meet future traffic demands, while retaining the quality of life of Quadrant residents, was not to build one superhighway, but to improve the major arterials, such as SH-93, SH-72, and SH-128.  Participants in the feasibility study agreed beforehand to abide by the recommendations; Arvada reneged on that promise and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Director Norton dismissed the study as invalid.  Norton put pressure on Jeffco to support the beltway connector, also known as the Jefferson Parkway, or he would withhold funding for the needed interchange improvements at SH-58 and I-70.   When the Jefferson Economic Council published a web site “History of the Beltway” supporting the Jefferson Parkway, reference to the feasibility study was omitted.

The Jefferson Economic Council is financed equally by taxpayers and the business community, but its policies and practices have overwhelmingly favored the business community over Jeffco citizens’ interests.  The mission of the JEC is to grow jobs in the county, primarily because nearly half of Jeffco residents with jobs work outside the county.  Jeffco is a great place to live, and people are willing to commute to outside jobs.  The JEC has supported business development as the way to employ more Jeffco residents in the county.  The previous JEC president pushed for building a NIKE facility on pristine South Table Mountain that would eventually have 5000 workers, until that proposal was defeated by local residents who would suffer the negative effects of increased traffic, noise, light and air pollution.  Also, most of that site was destined to become Jeffco Open Space, which is what has, in fact,  happened.

The flaw in the JEC job creation policy is the assumption that new, high paying jobs will go to Jeffco residents who were working outside the county.  Employers do not hire based on where people live, but what the labor market provides in the best-qualified workers at competitive costs.  It is quite easy for Denver area workers to commute to jobs in Jeffco, too.

Jeffco taxpayers should welcome the resignation of Preston Gibson as President of the Jefferson Economic Council.   Mr. Gibson was the JEC representative on CDOT’s four-year NW Corridor Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Study, the “Corridor” being the same as the “Quadrant”— north Jeffco.  The Purpose and Need Statement was about improving transportation, yet, early in the study, Mr. Gibson introduced supporting commercial development as a “Need” for the project, although it was never part of the official Purpose and Need.  Arvada representatives, planning what is now the Candelas commercial and residential development near the proposed beltway extension route, quickly agreed with the new “need.”  Without consulting the two EIS advisory committees, CDOT arbitrarily deleted any references to “local” roads.  That confirmed that CDOT’s true purpose was to use the EIS for a predetermined outcome, selection of a superhighway, serving commuters vs. nearby residents, which could be subsidized with money from the Federal Highway Administration, as no local or state money would be available.  After spending $13.7 million in taxpayer money, CDOT ended the study without a Draft EIS (DEIS).  Due to lack of funding for construction in the foreseeable future and incomplete consensus among local governments, the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process was ceased.  The reporting document became a planning document titled the Northwest Corridor Transportation and Environmental Planning Study (TEPS, July 2008). This document was to serve as a data resource and a practical foundation for future projects by CDOT or others when planning in this 20+ mile corridor located in multiple counties and municipalities.

TEPS Combined Alternative (click to view larger version)

The TEPS report recommended the Combined Alternative, a 20.1-mile-long series of connected roadways in the Northwest Corridor between the Northwest Parkway and C-470 in Golden.   It would consist of a six-lane Regional Arterial between the NW Parkway and SH 128, an 11-mile, four-lane, limited access Toll Road connecting to SH-93 just south of the 64th Ave. Parkway, and a six-lane Regional Arterial through Golden along SH-93 and US-6 connecting to C-470 and I-70. The Combined Alternative also includes a four-lane Principal Arterial along Indiana and McIntyre Streets between the Toll Road section’s Indiana Street interchange and SH-58. The TEPS report includes Golden’s Plan, by Muller Engineering, that proposed a four-lane parkway through Golden along the SH-93/US-6 corridor, but did not adopt any of the Muller recommendations.  The TEPS report presents the total cost of this Combined Alternative as $922 million in 2005 dollars, and estimates that $135-230 million of the total cost can be paid for with proceeds from bonds backed by anticipated toll revenues. A detailed analysis by Daniel Brand, Senior Consultant, and David Cuneo, Associate Principal, CRA International (Report and Comments on the Northwest Corridor Transportation and Environmental Planning Study, April 2009) concluded that this leaves a funding shortfall of $692-787 million to be paid for by public funds. Stated another way, this means that 15% to 25% of the cost of the Combined Alternative could be paid for out of bond proceeds, according to the TEPS report.

The CRA report analyzed six problems, with their individual and cumulative effects on the construction bonding capacity.  The conclusion of this analysis is that the TEPS study grossly overestimates the traffic, revenue and construction cost bonding capacity for the Combined Alternative, including the section of toll road called the “Jefferson Parkway.” Given the problems described in the analysis, even the chances of financing 6% of the $922 million construction cost of the Combined Alternative are remote, and not likely to be embraced by any investor. The 6% is well within the range of the statistical noise of the construction cost estimate. Under these circumstances, there is no business case for attracting an investor to incur both the revenue risk and the construction cost risk. Further, the financial estimates of the TEPS report cannot be used for financial planning or feasibility assessments without correction of its fundamental errors. Also, the consequence of splitting off the Jefferson Parkway from the Combined Alternative is to lose a third to a half of the traffic on the tolled JP because the Regional and Principal Arterials in the Combined Alternative no longer feed traffic into it. And, because the O&M costs of the toll road may be nearly half, or more likely, all of the revenue stream from traffic on the Combined Alternative, halving the traffic on the toll road leaves no reliable revenue available for construction cost financing of the toll road alone.

The sophisticated CRA report used the same Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) models as the EIS Study, and completely discredited the JEC’s  Economic & Fiscal Impacts of Development in the Northwest Corridor Area (September 2007).  The JEC financial projection was that economic development in Jeffco with completing the 20-mile “freeway” would be double that without it.  As the JEC did not compare the growth of the economy with the superhighway to growth in the MetroVision 2030 Transportation Plan without the beltway completion, the projection is invalid.   The badly flawed study used a few point values for critical variables instead of a range of values based on probabilities.  The greatest mistake of the study was to forecast the amount of traffic on the new roadway as though it were a freeway, not a tolled highway.

JPPHA Phased Project (click to view larger version)

The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), formed by the Jeffco commissioners, Arvada, and Broomfield to plan and build the toll road section of the Combined Alternative, took up the available data in the flawed TEPS report.    The TEPS study and its DEIS predecessor study never considered the stand-alone toll road as an alternative in the study, and no results are given for it in the TEPS report.

Like the E-470 and NW Parkway PHAs, the proposed Jefferson Parkway would not require federal funds, and, therefore, would be exempt from NEPA environmental impact analysis, but have the power of eminent domain just as government does.  The Jefferson Parkway  initial “Phased” project would provide no connection to the NW Parkway or improvements to the stop-and-go roads through Interlocken.  The JPPHA has proposed only the initial “Phased” project because no money from any source will be available to pay for a connection through Interlocken with the NW Parkway, or include building an interchange with two-lane SH-93, where the JP would dump additional traffic through Golden, already congested during rush hours.  The project would make none of the needed improvements to SH-93 designed by Muller Engineering.  In 2007,  Commissioner McCasky complained about the rush hour congestion and delay on two-lane SH-93 through Golden, claiming that enough money for the Jefferson Parkway would be available to make the needed SH-93 improvements (widening, noise mitigation, deleting some traffic light intersections and replacing others with grade separated interchanges).  Commissioner Hartman is on record as saying that, if the needed improvements to SH-93 were not part of the Jefferson Parkway project, she would not support the project.  When it became obvious that toll revenue would not pay for building the Jefferson Parkway, let alone pay for operations and maintenance, both commissioners reneged on their positions.

The May 6, 2008 Establishing Contract for the tax exempt JPPHA provided for “$100,000 initial startup funding that can be reimbursed by the PHA.  Additional funds may be necessary for start up costs associated with the PHA in connection with legal advice, financial, technical and fiscal analyses, or engineering review. These costs, if necessary, would be shared between Arvada, Jefferson County and Broomfield and each entity can request reimbursement from the PHA.”  The amount of taxpayer money collected and projected for 2008 – 2010 is $1.2 million, plus $200,000 from the Fund Balance.  After nearly three years of spending taxpayers’ money (total projected $1,510,563), the JPPHA has produced no affordable plan for even the short “Phased” toll road, and has issued no request for proposals to design and build it.  The PHA has reimbursed none of this money to the three sponsoring governments.

JPPHA Ultimate Project (click to view larger version)

Mr. Gibson, the Jefferson Economic Council’s president, has led the propaganda war supporting the Jefferson Parkway as originator of numerous print and web site articles — all exaggerating the need for the parkway and its transportation and financial benefits to north Jeffco residents — while minimizing the lack of affordability of the project.  The project documentation and the public relations statements have consistently misled the public by falsely claiming that building the 10-mile Jefferson Parkway toll highway will provide the exaggerated benefits of completing a 20+ mile extension of the Denver Beltway.  Even the “Ultimate” Jefferson Parkway will not make any improvements to two-lane SH-93 or four-lane US-6 through Golden that could be considered completing the beltway.  Money to make the “Ultimate” connection through Interlocken and to make a full interchange with SH-93 will have to be provided by Colorado taxpayers, as building them will provide no additional toll revenue.  JEC and JPPHA letters in local newspapers, printed without checking the facts, have called the Jefferson Parkway by itself  “the final link in the western beltway.”  Newspaper editorials supporting the Beltway have equated the unaffordable 10-mile Jefferson Parkway to the even more unaffordable 20+ mile Beltway extension.  Some (and there are many more) of the false benefits claimed for the Jefferson Parkway are:

  • It would significantly reduce congestion on Wadsworth through Arvada. The EIS traffic projections showed that this is not true for a 20-mile freeway, even less for a little used 10-mile toll highway.
  • It would be a better transportation route between Golden and Boulder. Drivers are not going to pay a toll to leave free SH-93 near 64th Ave. and drive miles out of their way through stop-and-go Interlocken to get to Boulder on congested US-6.
  • It is needed to support economic development, such as the Candelas project. The only parties to profit from building the Jefferson Parkway would be developers, builders, landowners, and realtors.  Arvada has already started developing Candelas and says that it will continue whether or not the toll highway is built. SH-93 and SH-72 provide excellent access to the Candelas site, which will be even better when improvements to those highways are made per the 2035 MetroVision Plan.  The latest CDOT report on highway conditions lists both of those highways as Poor (less than 5 years remaining useful life).  Improving them is much more critical than building a toll road across undeveloped north Jeffco land; regardless of the Poor rating, those highways will have to remain in service — the Jefferson Parkway cannot replace them.
  • As a regional highway, the Jefferson Parkway will reduce average Vehicle Hours Traveled (VHT) in the Denver Metro Region. Although called a regional highway in JPPHA documents, it is not.  The 20+ mile superhighway is called a regional highway, but the EIS Study projected only a fraction of 1% reduction in average VHT; a 10-mile toll highway would reduce it less, if at all.

In December 2009, Mr. Gibson testified in support of the Jefferson Parkway to the DRCOG Board to add the Jefferson Parkway to the MetroVision Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), repeating the invalid reasons, including the need to support economic development.  The JEC and all Board members had been informed that the JPPHA had cheated when preparing their report by using a low traffic projection to estimate the impact of the Jefferson Parkway on air quality and a much larger traffic projection when estimating toll revenue.  Ignoring this critical information, a majority of the Board, including Commissioner Hartman, voted to approve adding the Jefferson Parkway to the plan.  The Federal Highway Administration has required DRCOG and the JPPHA to correct the traffic projections before they will approve the project.

UPDATE:  Additional document, NW Corridor Position by City and County of Boulder, City of Louisville, and Town of Superior

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3 Responses to “Jefferson Parkway: Who Wins, Who Loses?”

  1. Once the portion from Clear Creek Canyon to 64th is four lane than the rest of 93 north of 72 will be the crisis area. People will surely pay the fee to stay on a fast moving four lane to connect with 36. Or perhaps with lots of people using the Jefferson Parkway 93 would be more sane.

    Entrance into and egress out of Boulder is awful on 93 unless you live in Table Mesa or at The Southern Sun. By circumventing South Broadway and using 36 and 47th Bypass life would be much better. Why do you think people get off Broadway at South Boulder Road to reach parts of Boulder north of Baseline? Do you think the new to be built pedestrian underpass will make Broadway an excellent commuter choice? Neither do I.

    The portions of 93 that have passing lanes are only adequate at this point in time. 93 will only get worse until it is four lane all the way or people stop having babies.

    Don’t forget the Rocky Flats portion of 93 is extremely hazardous during snow storms and the Indiana link would probably be less so. Which brings to mind The Rocky Flats Lounge, who would use the Jefferson Parkway when the Friday fish fry calls?

    So yes the Jefferson Parkway would be wonderful and useful for Boulder travelers outside of the afore mentioned beer and fish fry stops. And the bottom line is stop being so south west Boulder and Uni-Hill centric. There are other people in central and north Boulder and east of the city limits that would find the JP convenient.

  2. Seth Brigham says:

    We all lose.

    It’s called creating a highway so we can develop new businesses on the way.

    More sprawl !

    How about improving existing infrastructure and “environment” that appeals to the senses, instead.

    We don’t need no more highways cutting through our landscape, especially, if we want to move in another direction.

    There must be an alternative to our current locomotion/pollution.

  3. Dick Sugg says:

    The reason that 93 has not been improved (widening to four lanes, grade separated interchanges, divided highway for safety) between US-6 in Golden and Boulder is that both Jeffco and CDOT have it as the lowest priority to receive funds. The low priority is based on capacity, which handles current and projected traffic between Golden city limits and Boulder very well–average speed between traffic lights is more than 60 mph in good weather. The only reason that 93 has any priority at all is that it has a higher fatal accident rate than other arterials in the region. The only significant congestion/delay on 93 is during rush hours at the traffic lights at 64th and in Golden, also on two at lights on 4-lane US-6.

    Commuters who would use the JP from Boulder to C-470/US-6/I-70 in Golden will have to deal with US-6 rush hour congestion, or pay a toll, then stop and go through Interlocken traffic lights to 128, then pay a toll to go 10 miles on the JP, then enter two-lane 93 near 64th via an unimproved intersection (not grade separated) and then go through five traffic lights in Golden (not counting 64th). The only solution is first to widen 93 through Golden and reduce the number, or replace, traffic light intersections; then widen and make safety improvements to 93 all the way to Boulder, or at least to 128. (93-Broadway)is four to six lanes well into Boulder. If commuters from north and east Boulder wish to deal with 36, Interlocken, and JP tolls to get to two lane 93 through Golden, they might find it faster, but the nuimber who chose to do so is likely too small to support the needed toll revenue on the JP.

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