August 18, 2017

Let the Legal Wrangling Begin: the Beltway Lawsuit Gets Underway

The beltway lawsuits is off to a colorful start ...

The first of the proceedings in the lawsuit challenging the beltway proposal kicked off last week with a hearing on the lawsuit schedule. Scheduling conferences are usually dull affairs, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made it interesting: he made a highly unusual (perhaps unprecedented) bid to address the court as part of the hearing. It was a pretty strange move, since VIPs (even if they are cabinet secretaries) don’t usually get special opportunities to weigh in during legal proceedings, in addition to drawing even more attention to the backroom politics that have characterized the beltway and Rocky Flats issues from the beginning. Secretary Salazar withdrew his request before the judge ruled on it.

Check out the Denver Post article (“Jefferson Parkway opponents decry Salazar’s attempt to weigh in on court case“) for more details.

Golden, Superior, and two conservation groups (Rocky Mountain Wild and WildEarth Guardians) filed the lawsuit earlier this year, challenging the federal government’s attempt to sell land that is now part of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for use as a toll highway. We

In the meantime, Golden resumed its discussions with beltway proponents about a potential agreement to the dispute. As far as I know, the City Council’s position hasn’t changed appreciably since January: a willingness to consider an agreement that truly protects Golden from transportation projects that might occur outside our city limits. One thing that has changed: Colorado seems to be moving more definitively toward a transportation funding regime that relies heavily on toll lanes and toll highways across the state. Councilor Fisher provided some useful context in his newsletter last week:

While it is quiet on the PR and communications front, Council is actively engaged in working with and expanding the conversation on a Beltway. At the same time, the changing landscape of Colorado road funding means big, big changes in how CDOT and surrounding counties look at transportation. Specifically, I’m starting to sense that Coloradans are about to see a lot of new toll and “managed” lanes in the state over the next 10 years on major roads like C470, I-70, and possibly highway 93 in sections.

The basic math is this: Nobody appears interested in paying taxes, so if any roads are going to be built or maintained it’ll require tolling. Unfortunately, we’re getting what we as a society have asked for. More to the point, however, it means there are a LOT more interested players in seeing roads in and around Golden and the Metro area affected and connected. I partially see it as our role to understand how not to get run over by this massive shift in road policy here in Colorado and ensure we do get the mitigations and protections that keep Golden connected as a single, small and unique community with safe, slow roads, pollution reduction, and neighborhood strengthening.

I strongly encourage everyone to keep an ear to the ground as this challenge continues to be on our radar even when it may appear to go on the back burner. It affects all of us, and the more folks aware and involved, the better the outcome we can craft.

Keeping the Beltway Out of Golden: Neighborhood Meetings Start Tonight

As part of the community conversation about how best to keep the beltway out of Golden, we’ve scheduled four neighborhood open houses over the next two weeks. You’ll have a chance to review the history of Golden’s beltway fight, compare the two main options for continuing to keep the beltway out of Golden, get all your questions answered, and weigh in with your thoughts. We’ll also have updated maps and descriptions of Golden’s community-based Muller Plan, our own plan for fixing transportation issues in Golden like noise, pollution, congestion, neighborhood connections, and safety.

  • Southern Neighborhoods: Monday, Jan. 31, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Shelton Elementary
  • Central Neighborhoods: Tuesday, Feb. 1, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Fossil Trace Clubhouse
  • Daytime Open House: Wednesday, Feb. 9, 1-3 p.m. at City Council Chambers
  • Northern Neighborhoods: Wednesday, Feb. 9, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Mitchell Elementary

The two main options we are considering are:

Option #1: Golden can continue to fight the building of the Jefferson Parkway five miles north of Golden but make no progress on fixing existing and future transportation problems on U.S. 6 and Highway 93 in town.

or

Option #2: Golden can reach an agreement with Jefferson County that allows us to begin implementing Golden’s own Muller Plan for keeping U.S. 6 and Highway 93 safe, slow, and quiet in exchange for not suing to stop the Jefferson Parkway north of town.

We’ve got a web site up (GetTheFactsGolden) with information about both options, and we are regularly responding to community questions about those options and the risks of each. Some of the main concerns we’ve heard so far include:
You’ll find a bunch of other questions and answers on the web site, and please attend one of the neighborhood meetings if you can.

  • If we try to reach an agreement with Jefferson County, can we realistically expect to get funding to start implementing the Golden Plan for safe, slow, and quiet streets? This is a critical question, and I believe an agreement would have to include a good funding mechanism or it for sure wouldn’t make sense.
  • Why aren’t we focused on improving the arterials in Arvada? Our studies show that improving arterials like McIntyre and Indiana would improve congestion in Arvada but wouldn’t have a big impact on Golden. Since we don’t control what Arvada does to this streets, and because we don’t believe it would have a big impact on Golden regardless, we are more focused on the issues that really do impact traffic and quality of life in Golden.
  • Is the Jefferson Parkway inevitable? Some folks feel it is inevitable while others don’t think so. My view: we really don’t know if the proponents will be able to build it or not. We are pretty confident that the proponents will move ahead whether they have an agreement with Golden or not, meaning that they will take their proposal to the market in an effort to find investors. Whether there are investors out there crazy enough to throw a couple of hundred million into a road that is likely to fail is an open question.
  • If Golden sues to stop the Jefferson Parkway, what is the likelihood of winning? We’ve done a very good job of building a very strong legal case over the years, but these are difficult lawsuits. Our best guess is that if we file suit we’ve got a 50/50 chance of prevailing. If we win, the court is likely to identify specific steps that the proponents and agencies need to take, so they could potentially fix the problems with their process and make another run at it.

I hope to see many of you tonight or at one of the other neighborhood meetings this week and next.

 

The Ins and Outs of Federal Transportation Funding: Golden's Options for Funding Our "Safe, Slow, and Quiet" Muller Plan

One of the most challenging issues in our community discussion about the beltway fight is the funding of Golden’s own Muller Plan. These “Safe, Slow, and Quiet” improvements have been a central part of our long-term strategy for protecting Golden from the beltway and from other growth in traffic on U.S. 6 and Highway 93.

The challenging reality is that we probably can’t fund these projects unless and until Golden and Jefferson County reach some kind of agreement. Why? There are only three main mechanisms for securing federal funding for transportation projects like our Muller Plan projects, and all three depend on the local jurisdictions working in collaboration.

1) Grant funding (e.g., the federal TIGER grant program under the stimulus bill). Local collaboration among jurisdictions will continue to be an implicit or explicit condition of grant funding. The only Colorado project to receive TIGER funding was the 36 Corridor project (light rail, bus rapid transit, other highway improvements), a project that has the energetic support of every impacted jurisdiction. We can always submit proposals for grant funding like this (another transportation grant program is rumored to be in the works), but we are exceedingly unlikely to actually get any of these grants without Jeffco’s support.

2) Congressionally directed funding. Earmarks are the best-known type of Congressionally-directed funding, but members of Congress have other tools for doing this as well, including “phonemarks,” directly persuading the Cabinet Secretary to support specific projects, and other legislative strategies. Even if Congress reinstates the earmark system or replaces it with something comparable (as many expect it will do), our Congressional delegation is extremely unlikely to support any sort of funding for Golden projects if Jefferson County objects to them. Conversely, they’ve been very clear that they will support us in securing funding for projects in Golden that have Jefferson County’s buy-in. None of them want to get in the middle of a disagreement between Jefferson County and Golden.

3) The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) funding process. This is the primary option. Funding through this process is based on a points system. Golden has lost points in its effort to secure funding for Highway 93 safety improvements because we didn’t have political or financial support from Jefferson County. Many communities secure project funding despite not having the highest-scoring projects, but securing funding in this way is extremely difficult if the directly impacted jurisdictions themselves object (and every one of Golden’s projects is within Jefferson County, of course). On the other hand, where we have the support of other directly impacted communities, we have been able to secure funding. Since I’ve represented Golden at DRCOG, I’ve been able to secure funding for both of the projects I went after (our initial community bus feasibility study and the Golden Bluffs Connector bicycle/pedestrian path in southern Golden) in part because I had built support from other jurisdictions. This is true for other communities as well; while some projects just score high enough outright to get funded (ours probably won’t), most projects like ours that get funded end up on the list because the proponents have built strong support among the other impacted communities. Without Jefferson County on board, we probably won’t be able to do this.

In other words, while it is theoretically possible for Golden to secure funding to implement the Golden Plan for transportation improvements, it is very difficult and unlikely if the local jurisdictions aren’t in agreement.

Just to be clear, this is only one factor in deciding whether to reach an agreement with Jefferson County. But this basic reality of transportation funding is a key reason that our options have such pronounced tradeoffs. There are some advantages to the “no agreement with Jefferson County” option, but this is one serious downside: we probably won’t be able to fund any of our “Safe, Slow, and Quiet” Muller Plan improvements.

The Ins and Outs of Federal Transportation Funding: Golden’s Options for Funding Our “Safe, Slow, and Quiet” Muller Plan

One of the most challenging issues in our community discussion about the beltway fight is the funding of Golden’s own Muller Plan. These “Safe, Slow, and Quiet” improvements have been a central part of our long-term strategy for protecting Golden from the beltway and from other growth in traffic on U.S. 6 and Highway 93.

The challenging reality is that we probably can’t fund these projects unless and until Golden and Jefferson County reach some kind of agreement. Why? There are only three main mechanisms for securing federal funding for transportation projects like our Muller Plan projects, and all three depend on the local jurisdictions working in collaboration.

1) Grant funding (e.g., the federal TIGER grant program under the stimulus bill). Local collaboration among jurisdictions will continue to be an implicit or explicit condition of grant funding. The only Colorado project to receive TIGER funding was the 36 Corridor project (light rail, bus rapid transit, other highway improvements), a project that has the energetic support of every impacted jurisdiction. We can always submit proposals for grant funding like this (another transportation grant program is rumored to be in the works), but we are exceedingly unlikely to actually get any of these grants without Jeffco’s support.

2) Congressionally directed funding. Earmarks are the best-known type of Congressionally-directed funding, but members of Congress have other tools for doing this as well, including “phonemarks,” directly persuading the Cabinet Secretary to support specific projects, and other legislative strategies. Even if Congress reinstates the earmark system or replaces it with something comparable (as many expect it will do), our Congressional delegation is extremely unlikely to support any sort of funding for Golden projects if Jefferson County objects to them. Conversely, they’ve been very clear that they will support us in securing funding for projects in Golden that have Jefferson County’s buy-in. None of them want to get in the middle of a disagreement between Jefferson County and Golden.

3) The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) funding process. This is the primary option. Funding through this process is based on a points system. Golden has lost points in its effort to secure funding for Highway 93 safety improvements because we didn’t have political or financial support from Jefferson County. Many communities secure project funding despite not having the highest-scoring projects, but securing funding in this way is extremely difficult if the directly impacted jurisdictions themselves object (and every one of Golden’s projects is within Jefferson County, of course). On the other hand, where we have the support of other directly impacted communities, we have been able to secure funding. Since I’ve represented Golden at DRCOG, I’ve been able to secure funding for both of the projects I went after (our initial community bus feasibility study and the Golden Bluffs Connector bicycle/pedestrian path in southern Golden) in part because I had built support from other jurisdictions. This is true for other communities as well; while some projects just score high enough outright to get funded (ours probably won’t), most projects like ours that get funded end up on the list because the proponents have built strong support among the other impacted communities. Without Jefferson County on board, we probably won’t be able to do this.

In other words, while it is theoretically possible for Golden to secure funding to implement the Golden Plan for transportation improvements, it is very difficult and unlikely if the local jurisdictions aren’t in agreement.

Just to be clear, this is only one factor in deciding whether to reach an agreement with Jefferson County. But this basic reality of transportation funding is a key reason that our options have such pronounced tradeoffs. There are some advantages to the “no agreement with Jefferson County” option, but this is one serious downside: we probably won’t be able to fund any of our “Safe, Slow, and Quiet” Muller Plan improvements.

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

Governor Hickenlooper's Transportation Vision

I’m really pleased to report that I was appointed to the transportation committee of the Governor-elect’s transition team. It’s a diverse group: some other mayors, county commissioners, transportation experts, Front Rangers and West Slopers, folks associated with other stakeholder groups like the construction industry. It says a lot about Golden that we are represented on the transition team. We had our first meeting last week, a listening session in Frisco on Saturday, and another meeting coming up on Thursday afternoon. I would welcome any and all ideas about the Governor’s transportation agenda for the next four years. The specific questions:

  • Do you have ideas about what the new governor’s transportation agenda should include?
  • What “action agenda” items he should consider in his first 100 days?
  • Who the next CDOT director should be?

Please shoot me an email (jacobzsmith@gmail.com) or add a comment on my Facebook page if you have any thoughts. I need them by Thursday at noon.

Heading home from the listening session in Frisco on Saturday.

Governor Hickenlooper’s Transportation Vision

I’m really pleased to report that I was appointed to the transportation committee of the Governor-elect’s transition team. It’s a diverse group: some other mayors, county commissioners, transportation experts, Front Rangers and West Slopers, folks associated with other stakeholder groups like the construction industry. It says a lot about Golden that we are represented on the transition team. We had our first meeting last week, a listening session in Frisco on Saturday, and another meeting coming up on Thursday afternoon. I would welcome any and all ideas about the Governor’s transportation agenda for the next four years. The specific questions:

  • Do you have ideas about what the new governor’s transportation agenda should include?
  • What “action agenda” items he should consider in his first 100 days?
  • Who the next CDOT director should be?

Please shoot me an email (jacobzsmith@gmail.com) or add a comment on my Facebook page if you have any thoughts. I need them by Thursday at noon.

Heading home from the listening session in Frisco on Saturday.

Jacob's Golden Update: Golden's New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

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[Read more...]

Jacob’s Golden Update: Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study and Other News

Jacob’s Golden Update: November 28, 2009

1. Golden’s New Transit Feasibility Study
2. Jackson Street Corridor Project in the Works
3. New Email Newsletters Serving Golden
4. Council Adopts 2009 Building Code Including Radon Protections
5. Golden Vision 2030: Listening to the Community’s Stories
6. New State Transportation Funding
7. Rocky Mountain Deaf School Wins Approval for New High School
8. Adopting the 2010 Budget
9. Cindy Stevenson Awarded “Superintendent of the Year”
10. Other Upcoming Events
11. Next City Council Meeting: Thursday, December 3

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[Read more...]