April 20, 2018

Special Jefferson Parkway Negotiations Update

Last night we held a special City Council study session to brief the community on ongoing negotiations with Jefferson County, Boulder County, Arvada, Boulder, and Broomfield over the beltway and the current Jefferson Parkway proposal. We have two key goals: a) make sure nothing harmful happens in Golden; and b) start fixing the congestion, safety, and quality of life problems we currently have with U.S. 6 and Highway 93. I’ve been reporting at City Council meetings over the past six or eight months about these ongoing discussions, and recently Jefferson County has expressed a willingness to shift on some key points of contention. Just in the past couple of weeks we made some additional progress, and we didn’t want to wait until our next scheduled City Council meeting on December 9 to brief the community on all of this, so we convened the meeting last night to provide everyone with an update. I encourage you to watch the hour-long video if you are interested (it’s the November 30 “Special Study Session” in the “City Council” box).

One key piece of the solution that we’ve been negotiating is an Intergovernmental Agreement (often called an IGA) between Golden and Jeffco. It would codify the following:

  • Specific projects that Golden and Jeffco would do within the city limits and collaborating on securing funding for all of them. Basically we would do these one at a time, as we are able to secure the dollars. The projects include rebuilding all of the major intersections along U.S. 6 and 93 (in most or all cases with full overpasses and with all the pedestrian- and bike-friendly design features), making Highway 93 four lanes wide from Highway 58 to the north end of town, and realigning Highway 93 at the north end of town (moving the highway from its current alignment to the west away from Mesa Meadows and other north Golden neighborhoods).
  • Agreement on design principles for all of those projects: maximum of four lanes through Golden, noise limits, limits on vehicle speed, very pedestrian and bicycle focused . . . basically all of the design principles found in Golden’s Muller Plan.
  • Jeffco would pay for design and engineering of the first two projects: rebuilding the intersection at U.S. 6 and 19th and a combination of four-laning Highway 93 north of Highway 58 and realigning 93 at the north end of town to move it farther away from north Golden residential neighborhoods.

In other words, this agreement would codify the design principles that Golden has long sought and commit to the order in which we will actually make projects happen. It wouldn’t include every single element of the Muller Plan (e.g., the tunnel at Iowa is not included), but it would be based on all of the same design principles: dramatically reduce impact to neighborhoods (noise, pollution, etc.), dramatically improve connectivity between neighborhoods on the west side of Golden and the rest of town, and keep the traffic moving through Golden.

However, City Council doesn’t feel that this agreement alone would give us sufficient assurances that appropriate projects would actually take place and that we’d continue to be able to stop bad projects, so we insisted on two additional key elements: a commitment from CDOT and the new Governor that they will support the agreement and help us make these projects happen, and some mechanism that would give us all confidence that at least the first project will get built within a few years.

We have been discussing the issue with Governor-elect Hickenlooper, and while we don’t have a commitment yet they have been open to the idea. On the funding side, we received some really good news just yesterday: if we are able to pull all the pieces of this agreement together, Congressman Perlmutter will make our first one or two projects his highest transportation funding priority. While that obviously isn’t identical to having the dollars in hand, that sort of commitment from Congressman Perlmutter would give everyone a great deal of confidence that we’ll be able to get those dollars and build at least the first project over the next few years.

One other key element: Golden would retain our significant protections against harmful projects, including our ability to regulate any transportation projects that happen in Golden.

There would potentially be a separate agreement about open space protection near the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge in northern Jefferson County. That agreement would involve Jeffco committing to protecting all of the state property known as “Section 16″ (which is a critical wildlife habitat connection) and contributing $5 million toward purchasing that property, which is probably enough to actually enable the purchase, in exchange for everyone else taking a neutral position on the Jefferson Parkway proposal. Boulder and Boulder County have taken the lead on the open space discussions and have expressed support for the concept, although they still have a lot of details to work out. Obviously, Golden wouldn’t be part of that agreement unless we have a good transportation agreement first.

In a perfect situation, there wouldn’t be a Jefferson Parkway and we’d have the $150 – $200 or so million we would need to build out all of our projects on the U.S. 6/Highway 93 corridor in Golden. But this situation isn’t perfect. 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. 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.

Given that, while I’ve always been very clear that I’m willing to fight this out to the end to protect Golden, I’ve also been clear that I’m open to a reasonable solution that meets our own community needs. The agreement we’ve been working on would keep the beltway out of Golden, maintain strong protections against future bad projects happening in Golden, still require the Jefferson Parkway proponents to go to the market to try and finance their ten-mile toll highway between 128 and 93, and in all likelihood provide our highest priority intersection rebuild in Golden completed within a few years, substantially improving on congestion, safety, and quality of life in our community. It would also mean that the substantial dollars we currently spend on the beltway fight every year could be used for other community priorities.

This agreement that we’ve been working on obviously isn’t perfect, and I and other City Council members still have some questions and concerns we would need to work out. Some of my concerns at this point are making sure that we do everything possible to prevent the resurrection of the original superhighway-through-Golden vision, nailing down buy-in from CDOT and the Governor, and making sure that the agreement will actually produce Muller-like designs for all of those intersections.

But if we can answer those questions and pull all the pieces together, this may be a reasonable agreement that meets Golden’s needs while still providing us long-term protection against harmful projects within our community.

If we knew with certainty that we could duke it out to the very end and prevail, and that as a result we’d get everything we want – all the right projects in Golden and no more highway or other development in the open space north of town – that would probably be the right course of action. But the outcome if we duke it out to the end is very uncertain. This is the same reason, of course that everyone else is at the table – no one knows what the outcome would be if we fight this out to the end. We could win or we could lose. And even if we prevailed, we still wouldn’t have any funding at all to build any of the improvements we actually want in Golden. If we move forward with this agreement, assuming we are able to answer all of our remaining questions and concerns, our main concession is that we stop fighting to prevent the current Jefferson Parkway proposal (which is well north of Golden anyway), but in return we have an agreement about improvements in Golden that includes nearly everything we’ve asked for over the years, we end the decades-long fight that has deeply poisoned relationships across the Denver Metro region, we actually get at least one critical projects done in Golden within a few years, and we save the taxpayers the considerable amount of money we now spend every year in the beltway fight.

I and everyone else on City Council welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions (citycouncil@cityofgolden.net).

Jacob