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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

Road improvements to ease travel to DIA

Ever felt that getting to Denver International Airport from the Northern Front Range is more of a hassle than trying to fly through O˜Hare or Atlanta?Well, cheer up, because help is on the way. New highway projects should improve access to DIA as early as this coming summer, especially for people along the U.S. Highway 85 corridor. And eventually, completion of the E-470 beltway to Interstate 25 north of Denver will provide all-turnpike access to DIA.
That should be good news for most Northern Front Range residents and could help Northern Colorado to begin cashing in on its proximity to the nation˜s newest international airport.
While DIA is farther north than Stapleton as the crow flies, the reality has been that the new airport northeast of Denver in rural Adams County is harder to get to than Stapleton for many along the Northern Front Range, particularly along the I-25 corridor.
Northern Colorado communities no longer have commercial air-shuttle service to DIA, there˜s no light rail, and there˜s no direct public bus service north of the Denver metro area. And while a plethora of private shuttle-bus and limousine services will drive you to DIA, they face the same routing obstacles that every driver faces.
The primary problem is a lack of direct freeway access from the Northern Front Range unless you travel all the way to I-70 and then back north to DIA on Pea Boulevard. In fact, many airport commuters find that staying on I-25 to I-76 to I-270 to I-70 to Pea Boulevard may mean a few more miles but takes less time in non-rush-hour traffic than the slightly shorter alternatives through Brighton or Northglenn.
Most of the rest head east from I-25 on 104th Avenue between Northglenn and Thornton to Tower Road and then south to Pea or cut over on Colorado Highway 7 from Lafayette to Brighton, then south on U.S. 85 to 120th Avenue and east to Tower Road. From U.S. 85 or I-76, airport commuters take 120th Avenue east to Tower Road.
"Coming from the north, it˜s really not bad access," said
Dan Hopkins, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman. "We made some improvements before DIA opened to a couple of major arteries (104th and 120th), and both of those routes are good access routes for people coming from the north."
Both are slightly shorter than driving all the way to I-70. The problem is that both involve long stretches of two-lane roads, frequent traffic lights and several railroad-grade crossings. If you get caught in suburban traffic congestion or behind a slow vehicle on Tower Road, it will seem like forever getting to DIA.
Big improvements are in store this summer, however, when another segment of the E-470 beltway around Denver is completed. That segment will link 120th Avenue with Pea Boulevard and DIA. By the late spring or summer of 1999, travelers will be able to drive on E-470 from 120th Avenue all the way south and west to I-25 at Park Meadows shopping mall south of Denver.
A 50-year dream of a beltway around Denver is becoming a reality, thanks to the E-470 project launched by Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties when they created an intergovernmental Public Highway Authority in 1985. Using a combination of tolls, taxes, bonds and investments, the authority is building a 46-mile eastern loop around Denver. Five miles already are open from I-25 at Park Meadows to Parker Road, and another 29 miles are under construction from Parker Road to 120th Avenue.
E-470 from 120th Avenue south to DIA will improve access for U.S. 85 and I-76 airport travelers, because they˜ have only a short jog on 120th Avenue to E-470. CDOT also is planning improvements to the I-76-120th Avenue interchange, Hopkins said. Construction on the $43 million project is scheduled to begin in May, with completion late the following year.
For I-25 commuters, however, all-turnpike access to DIA probably will have to wait for completion of E-470 northwest to I-25, possibly as early as the year 2003.
The E-470 Public Highway Authority recently approved $6.5 million for preliminary work on Segment IV, the remaining 12 miles from 120th Avenue to I-25 just south of Colorado 7. That represents a commitment but also only a small portion of the $250 million construction pricetag, said Steve Hogan, executive director of the E-470 Authority.
"Our hope is we can begin some design and engineering work in 1999 and initiate construction in the year 2000," Hogan said. "If we would start in the year 2000, we would be done by the year 2003. We would do it as quickly as we could."
However, that construction schedule is predicated on the E-470 Authority realizing sufficient toll revenues from the 29 miles now under construction, Hogan warned, and that can˜t be determined until those segments open in 1998 and 1999. If revenue comes in as expected, "then I would think the year 2000 for starting construction would be valid," he said.
Another option for improved access would be 120th Avenue east from I-25 to Tower Road and by next July E-470. It doesn˜t work now, because there˜s no bridge across the South Platte River. A bridge is on the drawing board, but it is not yet funded, Hopkins said.
Up north in Wyoming, Cheyenne offers six roundtrip flights a day to DIA, but despite vigorous "Fly Cheyenne" promotions, 80 percent of the air travelers opt to drive to DIA rather than fly, said Jerry Olson, Cheyenne airport manager.
"It˜s all driven by air fares," Olson said. "If the price is competitive, people prefer to fly. If it isn˜t, they˜ get in their car."
Olson welcomed the longer trip to DIA, hoping it would be a boom for Cheyenne˜s airport, but the pullback of Continental from DIA and Continental Express from Cheyenne spelled doom for the Continental-United fare wars that filled planes in Cheyenne.
That isn˜t to say Wyomingites welcome the longer drive to DIA any more than Northern Coloradans, but they˜ve become resigned to it, said Harriet Ratchye of Far Horizons Travel in Cheyenne.
"They used to complain, but people get used to it," she said. "It˜s always a struggle to drive. It˜s a long two-plus hours to DIA, and then you have to find a place to park. But they do it."

Ever felt that getting to Denver International Airport from the Northern Front Range is more of a hassle than trying to fly through O˜Hare or Atlanta?Well, cheer up, because help is on the way. New highway projects should improve access to DIA as early as this coming summer, especially for people along the U.S. Highway 85 corridor. And eventually, completion of the E-470 beltway to Interstate 25 north of Denver will provide all-turnpike access to DIA.
That should be good news for most Northern Front Range residents and could help Northern Colorado to begin cashing in on its proximity to…

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