Environment, safety at center of Jefferson Parkway toll road debate

Parkway agency says proposed route is sound choice

Posted 8/16/19

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 …

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Environment, safety at center of Jefferson Parkway toll road debate

Parkway agency says proposed route is sound choice

Posted

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.

In its Noise Technical Assessment, the JPPHA likewise estimated that certain parts of Leyden Rock, including the cul-de-sac and path near W. 87th Avenue, will sit 160 feet and 180 feet from the road, respectively.

Those neighbors find themselves concerned not only with a changing landscape, but with potential pollution-related health complications the road could bring. A number of studies have found that women and children in particular are at a greater risk of developing respiratory or pulmonary conditions if they live in a community with a major freeway.

“We (in Leyden Rock) will be much closer to the road than almost anyone else on this beltway,” Vernon said. “Our community needs to weigh in.”

Hendricks also questioned how the road will impact animals’ safety, as have others, especially regarding animals that are a part of the newly created Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

According to the refuge’s conservation plan and environmental impact statement, “new increased noise along any of the adjacent corridors (to the refuge) could alter the behavior and productivity of some wildlife species on the refuge,” as could artificial lighting.

However, the impacts of the Jefferson Parkway will likely be “limited,” said Michael D’agostino, the refuge’s public affairs specialist. The portion of the parkway near the refuge will converge with Indiana Street, which “is already a barrier to wildlife movement,” he said.

Cancer concerns discussed

In addition to addressing the roadway’s proximity to houses, JPAC spent a good deal of time discussing the parkway’s proximity to former nuclear weapons plant Rocky Flats, Stafford said.

Located just north of the Candelas neighborhood, west of Indiana Street, the Rocky Flats weapons plant complex was established in 1952 and closed in 1989 after federal agents found carcinogenic particles had contaminated its soil, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The cleanup was completed by the early 2000s with the old buildings and contaminated waste removed or buried. The buffer zone around the core of the old facility has been designated a wildlife refuge, but with traces of certain elements, including plutonium, still found in the area’s soil, many believe the site remains dangerous.

MORE: Lawsuit reveals Rocky Flats grand jury documents missing

And many believe they have seen the effects of this firsthand, such as Bonnie Graham-Reed, who helped found the community group Rocky Flats Right To Know. Graham-Reed, who lives in the Lake Arbor neighborhood, says she has seen “incredibly high levels of cancer” in her neighborhood — and she suspects Rocky Flats is to blame.

She believes construction of the parkway will dig up contaminated dirt and cause nearby individuals to inhale the cancerous particles — and Stafford agrees.

“It’s immoral for the government to exacerbate the problem with construction projects that will suspend dust into the air,” he said.

But the JPPHA holds that the project will pose no public health risk.

“The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment all have declared that the proposed alignment of the Jefferson Parkway near Rocky Flats is safe for unlimited use,” said authority spokesperson Sheryl Machado.

A 2016 CDPHE study found that communities near Rocky Flats have not seen higher incidences of 10 different cancers as compared to other areas.

Critics denounced the study for excluding those who have moved away from the analyzed communities. Stafford and others still call any construction near the plant “irresponsible.”

“It basically comes down to a question of economic development versus public health,” Stafford said.

Graham-Reed believes there are several options to prevent the construction of the parkway — including legal action related to Rocky Flats — that would spare the community potential safety hazards.

But should the parkway move forward as planned, she said, her daily plans may change.

“We’re just outside the work area. My family is going to have a serious discussion if we should go somewhere while they’re building it,” she said. “I haven’t moved; this is my home. And I want to stop this parkway.”

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