Completing Denver's Beltway

By Hol Wagner | September 28, 2010

Mountain America is unusual in that none of its major metropolitan areas have completed beltways surrounding them. There are partial perimeter freeways, to be sure, and three of the cities — Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver — have made considerable progress on true beltways. And Salt Lake City has segments of what might be called a beltway.

I-470 Becomes C-470, E-470

Denver gained a measure of fame back in 1975 when then-Gov. Richard Lamm fulfilled a campaign promise to "drive a silver stake through the heart of I-470," the planned metropolitan beltway, and had the project withdrawn from the federal Interstate Highway System. Within a few years, the state would end up paying a great deal higher price when, without the degree of assistance it would have received as an interstate, the first link of the beltway — the southwest quadrant — was completed by the state in the 1980s as C-470.

Funding simply could not be found by the state to complete the loop, however, so the E-470 Public Highway Authority was organized in 1983 by Adams and Arapahoe counties, Aurora and other affected communities and over the next 20 years completed the eastern half of the beltway as a privately financed toll road. Another segment, from Interstate 25 on the northern outskirts of the metro area west to Broomfield, just short of a connection with US-36 to Boulder, was completed in late 2003 by the Northwest Parkway Authority, also as a toll road.

Traffic on E-470, which passes through Denver International Airport, has exceeded expectations, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning the addition of a pair of toll lanes to part of C-470 to increase the capacity of the crowded highway. But the Northwest Parkway segment has lagged well behind expectations, likely because it neither connects with any other freeway at its western end nor completes a link with the other end of the beltway, some 22 miles to the south at Golden. Last year, in fact, a Portugese company, Brisa, took over operation of the Northwest Parkway under a 99-year contract.

Closing the Gap

Now, after years of planning and several false starts — and in spite of fierce opposition from the city of Golden — the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority has been organized by Jefferson County, Broomfield and Arvada to extend the beltway some 20 of the remaining 22 miles, from Broomfield to the northern outskirts of Golden near 58th Avenue. The two-mile gap through Golden would remain the existing four-lane Colorado 93/US-6 route and would form a toll-free link of sorts connecting the Jefferson Parkway to C-470 and I-70 at the southwest edge of Golden. Though it is by no means a perfect solution, it's the best that's likely to be achieved, considering Golden's unwavering opposition.

The three participants in the new highway authority are each contributing $100,000 in startup funds, and the entity will hire a director and explore the feasibility of financing the construction, operation and maintenance of this badly needed gap in the metro beltway.

As a resident of the area that would be served by the new tollway, we wish the authority luck. It's high time the gap was filled.