It’s payback time for Commerce City.
Sixteen years ago, the city made a deal with the E-470 toll road to curb the speed limit, add traffic signals and limit improvements on Tower Road north of Peña Boulevard so Tower would not siphon motorists from E-470.
Toll-road critics have long blasted these so-called non- compete agreements.
The Commerce City/E-470 pact allowed the city to hike the speed limit above the 40 mph restriction and take out stoplights after extension of the toll highway was complete. Commerce City did so beginning in 2005.
The final element of the agreement calls for E-470 to pay for construction of an on-ramp from southbound Tower to southbound Peña if that ramp has not been built by Jan. 1, 2012.
No one stepped forward to build the ramp, so Commerce City has asked E-470 to fulfill its end of the bargain.
E-470’s directors have “a general sense of obligation” that the toll highway must pay for the ramp, said E-470 executive director John McCuskey, “but they haven’t voted on it.”
Details, including price and a construction timetable, still must be worked out, McCuskey said.
E-470’s preliminary price tag for the ramp is about $4 million, while Commerce City’s estimate is about $10.7 million.
Commerce City wants the final ramp constructed to especially serve residents and businesses in the Tower Road corridor north of Peña Boulevard, including the Reunion residential development near East 104th Avenue and Tower.
“We hear a lot from our residents that it is frustrating to have to travel all the way on Tower to 56th Avenue to get onto Peña Boulevard,” said Brian McBroom, acting city manager for Commerce City, referring to what amounts to be a 4-mile detour for southbound motorists.
Still, even if Commerce City and E-470 agree on a price and construction schedule for the ramp, other issues must be resolved to get it built.
Denver owns the Peña Boulevard right of way, so city and DIA officials need to sign off on the ramp project.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has long been concerned about vehicles using Peña for non-aviation-related purposes, like commuting from Commerce City to downtown Denver, since FAA funding contributed to the construction of the airport road.
Addition of the ramp is likely to increase the flow onto Peña of such vehicles because it will facilitate the movement of motorists away from DIA.
The sense of Commerce City officials, following conversations with FAA counterparts, is that the federal agency will not object to the ramp being built if FAA money is not being used for the project, said Commerce City spokeswoman Michelle Halstead.
But the issue of properly allotting maintenance costs for Peña Boulevard and its interchanges remain unsettled.
Last year, a key FAA official said DIA should consider tolling certain Peña on- and off-ramps to collect revenue from non-DIA users.
“Given that Peña Boulevard is and will continue to be used by a significant amount of non-airport related traffic,” FAA regional airports division manager John Bauer said in a letter to DIA, “you must find an avenue for ensuring that airport revenue is only used to pay the airport’s proportionate share of the maintenance of Peña Boulevard.”
In response, DIA early this year commissioned a year- long traffic volume and origin/destination study aimed at generating data that could assist airport officials in getting others to pay some Peña Boulevard maintenance costs — like other jurisdictions or possibly even drivers through tolls.
DIA opened in 1995 and for most of the period since then, the Peña/Tower interchange has operated with three ramps.
Not having the on-ramp from Tower to Peña is a “headache” for DIA customers of Canopy Airport Parking, said Adam Kaufman, marketing manager for the privately owned lot that sits just north of the interchange.
Canopy’s customers fly into DIA after a business trip or vacation and want to get on Peña to get home, yet the access “is just not there,” Kaufman said.
Tower Road commuter Chad Newman is more emphatic.
“It’s insane to not be able to get on and off at a major intersection,” said Newman, a Brighton resident who regularly uses Tower to get to Aurora and other points south.