Beltway authority proposal hits the brakes...for now

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Boosters have put the brakes to a proposal that would have formed a state beltway authority to allegedly smooth traffic snarls, but critics charged was really designed to grease the wheels for the completion of the northwest beltway, including a toll road past Rocky Flats.

The sneaky move had challenged not the communities in the northwest burbs, but across Colorado.

A copy of the draft proposal to create the Beltway Economic Enhancement Project, or BEEP, leaked out in Golden two weeks ago, and that town's officials, who'd spent much of last year in negotiations with state transportation officials and the Jefferson Public Parkway Highway Authority, quickly issued a call to arms.

The proposed Beltway Completion Authority that would clear the way for future construction of Denver-area beltway-related projects would also pave over Colorado's tradition of local control, established almost four decades ago by House Bill 74-104, Golden officials charged. They saw it as adding a "whole new layer of government with unprecedented powers to override local control of municipalities and counties throughout the Denver metro area."

But the move wasn't a secret for long. Jefferson County Commissioners, who'd worked with the parkway authority on the proposal, posted an announcement of the move on their web site, taking a few smacks at Golden in the process:

Jefferson County Seeks Legislation to Improve Regional Traffic and Air Quality While Providing Economic Enhancement

Jefferson County Commissioners and the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority have drafted language for a bill they hope will be introduced into the State Legislature this session.

The proposed legislation, nicknamed "BEEP" for Beltway Economic Enhancement Project, would drive the City of Golden to cooperate in the regional beltway project.

Jeffco Commissioner John Odom said the "proposed legislation is consistent with all our past efforts. It would re-enforce everything we've done to get the parkway completed to benefit the entire metro area."

The Parkway Authority is made up of Jefferson County, the City of Arvada and the City and County of Broomfield.

The lack of a completed beltway overburdens the existing state and local road system, especially the heavily used US Highway 6 and Highway 58. In 2015, the Highway 93/58 intersection will be at level of service "F."

"We all know the financing structure for transportation is broken," said Donald Rosier, Chair of the Jeffco Board of Commissioners and member of the Parkway Authority Board. "State and federal dollars for transportation are very difficult to get and will become harder to secure over time. The City of Golden has been the road block to completing the Denver metropolitan beltway - a regional traffic congestion reliever and economic driver, which has been on the regional planning maps and even Golden's maps since 1987."

Golden's roadways are already overburdened, yet Golden has had several offers to help solve the traffic issues it faces. For example, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spent five years and $15 million in an Environmental Impact Statement process, analyzing 73 possible alignments.

Jeffco Commissioner Faye Griffin said "In 2006 and 2009 Jefferson County reached out to work with Golden to seek funding specifically to resolve Highway 93 issues in Golden. The city rejected those offers."

In 2011, CDOT, the Parkway Authority, Jefferson County, Arvada, and Broomfield identified $58 million to help Golden with existing traffic congestion -- a negotiated process that took five and a half months and cost more than $100,000.

"We have now resorted to seeking state legislation to bring Golden back to the table," Rosier explained. "We want a sincere conversation and Golden's willingness to compromise. Regional transportation issues are not going away and our proposed legislation is a sensible and responsible approach to address these issues."

In short:

• BEEP is not a usurpation of local control, but a reinforcement of local participation in regional and statewide cooperation and decision-making.

• BEEP comes only after Golden walked away from collaborative solutions.

• BEEP is an economic enhancement bill, which will create construction jobs and attract business investment in Colorado, by improving mobility for all Colorado citizens.

• The Beltway Completion Authority created by BEEP would be a tool to assist the state and local governments and authorities to complete the long-awaited beltway.

"We agree the need to solve regional mobility issues should not be at the detriment of one jurisdiction," Odom stated. "However Golden's insincere cooperation has wasted money and time that would be better spent on traffic improvements."

By this weekend, when legislator Max Tyler, who'd been quoted in the New York Times in January in a storyabout these projects titled "No Closure for Denver's Beltway Loop," held his town hall meeting in Golden on Saturday, much of the talk was about the end run by Jeffco, and yesterday he was hearing rumblings that the bill might not be introduced this session, which ends May 9.

And yesterday, the proposal hit a brick wall. Former Golden mayor Jacob Smith, who'd spent months negotiating for a transportation deal (a move labeled as "insincere cooperation" in Jeffco's release), posted a note on his new Radio Golden Facebook page that BEEP was dead this session:

Breaking news in the beltway department: apparently State Senator Betty Boyd and State Representative Vaad decided not to introduce their beltway bill. The bill, which was crafted and pushed by the Jefferson County Commissioners, would have created a super-powerful but unaccountable highway authority that could condemn any land it wanted in Golden in order to build their proposed toll superhighway. It's ironic to see the Jeffco commissioners, who claim to be proponents of property rights and local control, push a bill that was such a blatant attack on both. I'm sure there's still a tough fight ahead, but huge congrats to Mayor Sloan, City Council, and the rest of the Golden team for a job well done on this important battle.
Silence is definitely not Golden. Still, the road ahead could be rough.

Road warriors have been fighting for -- and against -- a northwest beltway for years. Read our January 2009 cover story "Battle of the Beltway."



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