In September 2017, Randy Stafford walked into a public forum of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA), prepared to ask several questions about the public safety and environmental impacts of the future toll road that will run through northwest Arvada.
Those questions would lead him to months of presentations, discussions and plans — and, naturally, more questions — after that first meeting prompted Stafford to apply for the Jefferson Parkway Advisory Committee (JPAC).
“I decided on the spur of the moment, ‘I’m going to be on this committee,’” he said. “And the reason I was applying was public safety.”
JPAC was a committee of community members, formed by the JPPHA, to give feedback on parkway plans. JPAC’s work culminated with official recommendations made to the JPPHA board in November 2018.
Stafford’s concerns — which include environmental changes and plutonium contamination along the portion of the parkway next to Rocky Flats — echo the concerns of some in the Jefferson County community. Those community members question what the coming construction and permanent parkway will mean for nearby citizens, wildlife and future generations.
Effects of a roadway
For Colorado State University Professor Emeritus David Hendricks, who lives near 80th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard, the Jefferson Parkway represents “an irreversible change in the environment,” he said.
“The freeway will permanently mar the present incomparable scenic vistas, as seen, for example, while driving C-93,” he said. “Such mountain views are unique to Colorado and a major reason that people are attracted to our environment.”
To be sure, views in Arvada will change near the highway, which will be four lanes wide and roughly 10 miles long.
But the proponents and planners behind the parkway have stood by its location, saying a purpose of the road is to fill in the last remaining gap of the beltway that loops around the Denver area.
One parkway planner, David Jones, an Arvada city councilmember and chairman of the JPPHA board, acknowledged the potential landscape changes the parkway will bring — he’ll be able to see the parkway from his backyard in Leyden Rock, he said. But for him, the benefits of the location warrant the change.
“It will help to move traffic around the city, and it’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be completed,” he said.
He added that the board has taken JPAC recommendations, including requiring sound and light mitigation along the part of the road near Leyden Rock, to address citizens’ concerns.
Jones’ neighbors will likewise find themselves living on the edge of the parkway, with some of their houses less than 200 feet from the road, according to a calculation by Leyden Rock resident Brett Vernon based on a map of the proposed parkway.
An update on the City and County of Broomfield’s website on Sept. 1 indicated that the construction of the Jefferson Parkway — which earlier this year seemed to be on the horizon — is farther away than anticipated.
The post went up days after the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) alerted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to its findings that some soil in the parkway’s planned route tested for elevated levels of plutonium.
“Given the recent test results and the (Broomfield) Council’s feedback, the Parkway is not moving forward at this time,” the statement reads.
The finding was part of a soil study the JPPHA launched in May, which was driven by several factors, including community member concerns about the road’s proposed path near the former Rocky Flats site. Community groups Rocky Flats Right to Know, the Rocky Flats Downwinders and others have worried that the toll road’s construction will stir up plutonium buried near the site, putting nearby citizens at higher risk of developing cancer.
Because of these health concerns, Broomfield City Council members planned to hold a discussion and vote on whether to continue the city’s membership in the JPPHA and fund roughly $2 million extra requested for the project this year. Broomfield is one of three JPPHA members, along with the City of Arvada and Jefferson County.
Broomfield had tentatively scheduled its decision for September. However, plans changed after the discovery of a potential plutonium hotspot along Indiana Street.
“The soil sample was no surprise to me. Plutonium doesn’t go away,” said Bonnie Graham-Reed with Rocky Flats Right to Know. Areas surrounding Rocky Flats, like Indiana Street, were “never `cleaned up’ – there was no cleanup, except at the actual plant site.”
In its update, Broomfield said the discussion will not occur this month as the city awaits more information about plutonium levels in the area.
“There are no on-going activities to further the selection of a private partner for the Jefferson Parkway,” the statement said, which goes on to say that the city has no scheduled ordinances nor resolutions regarding the parkway, aside from possible financial support for more testing.
Looming city election
The delay represents just one link in a chain reaction of setbacks: though the JPPHA had aimed to select a private partner to run the road this summer, the authority has waited on Broomfield’s decision; and though Broomfield had wanted to make its decision in September, the council has postponed discussion until the JPPHA’s soil sampling test is complete.
Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens holds the decision “was directly related to wanting to get better data” on the soil samples, disputing the claim that the delay had anything to do with the upcoming election.
But some opponents, such as Jeff Staniszewski and those in his group, the Movement to Stop Jefferson Parkway, question the timing of the Broomfield delay.
“We believe the Broomfield City Council would have voted down the appropriation (of the additional $2 million),” he said. “The mayor has pulled the proposal for the time being knowing the November elections might result in a Jefferson-Parkway-friendly city council.”
Mayor Ahrens disputes such a motivation.
“I’ve heard that a few times and find the claim nonsensical,” Ahrens said. “Now that we have experienced an anomaly, we are looking for guidance from the CDHPE after the test results are presented.”
As for when that might be, the analysis of every sample — there are more than 200 — “will not be completed until late this year,” said Bill Ray, the executive director of the JPPHA. “The lab can only process 40 samples at a time and the analysis takes at least three weeks.”
In a public statement, Ray said that, even with recent events, “the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority Board of Directors has taken no action to change its approach to next steps with the Parkway. After the Board has the results of all samples and received appropriate direction from CDPHE, it will determine next steps for the highway and its process of selecting a contractor.”
Brett Vernon, founder of community group Neighbors of the Parkway, said that many may find the situation and plutonium discovery troubling, himself and his fellow group members included.
However, to him, time will ultimately tell whether the plans are safe or not, he said.
“The JPPHA has stated that the health of the community is paramount, and so far their actions are fully supportive of that statement,” he said. “Utilization of independent experts will be important to (ensure) that environmental concerns related to Rocky Flats are understood.”