ARCHIVED  March 1, 1996

Finding your way to DIA

A trip to Denver’s airport requires a roadmap

For many Coloradans, Denver International Airport is like an attractive airhead — nice to look at, but pretty expensive to keep up and not always helpful in times of stress.
Baggage systems, runway cracks and bad parking aside, a major concern for Front Range residents is the hopscotch path required to get to DIA. With the simplest, quickest route no longer on interstates (as was the trip to the old Stapleton International Airport), travelers have been forced to improvise.
Someday, a toll road might carry northern Front Range traffic straight to DIA, but for now, most people get there by taking Interstate 25 south to either 120th or 104th avenues, turning east to Tower Road and then heading south to Peña Boulevard.
“We really haven’t heard a lot of complaints,´ said Chuck Cannon of DIA’s public-affairs office. “I think [DIA] is easy to get to — it’s a snap, if you know where you’re going.
“It may be 10 minutes longer [than the trip to Stapleton], but it’s on country highway. It’s a tradeoff from the traffic on 70, which could jam up pretty badly.”
For shuttle services such as Airport Express of Fort Collins, DIA has been mostly good news, although the trip takes 30 minutes longer than the one to Stapleton. Airport Express’ preferred route is I-25 south to Colorado Highway 7, east to U.S. Highway 85, then south to Tower Road and then Peña Boulevard.
Airport Express recently announced service from Wyoming to the Colorado Springs Airport, with stops in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Denver International Airport and the Denver Technological Center.
“DIA has been helpful,´ said Pat Altenburg, of Airport Express. “Things have had to be worked out on both sides. Our drop-off level [at the airport] is for commercial vehicles only, and it saves time not having all that other traffic around.”
Point being, if your needs are simple, the trip to DIA is no cause for aneurysm. But for Spiro Palmer, those blood vessels take quite a pounding.
Palmer, owner of Palmer Flowers in Fort Collins, makes at least one trip per week to DIA on the 104th Avenue route. He brings in as much product as he can from California on refrigerated trucks; retrieving his fragrant cargo at DIA has devolved from a two-hour errand to a four-hour excursion with the closing of Stapleton.
“It’s about 25 to 30 minutes more, depending on weather and traffic,” Palmer said. “It was much easier to get in and out of Stapleton.”
Part of the problem is the time-consuming transfer of materials from the plane to cargo retrieval, which grates at Palmer because he thinks the facilities could be better used.
“About that, I never ask why, and no one ever tells me why,” he said.
And as for that snappy trip on Colorado’s country roads `
“On 104th, in bad weather and with a big truck in front of you, you go about 15 miles per hour,” Palmer said. “You can’t pass.”
Since 1986, the Front Range Toll Road Co. Inc. has labored to secure a corridor that would remove all this unwanted drama from the journey to DIA. The toll road is really a monster bypass, picking up traffic south of Pueblo and looping it back to I-25 north of Fort Collins.
Ray Wells, president of the FRTRC, said he imagines people will use the toll road to get to the airport, as the corridor runs just east of DIA. Ideally, the corridor will include light rail and double-rails for coal trains, as well as handle various communications and utility transfers.
“We’ve said from the beginning it was not a matter of if, but when,” he said. “What it takes is the coming together of timing, financing and needs.”
A more immediate source of succor for those driving to DIA might be E-470, which by 1999 should stretch beyond DIA and hook up to I-25 at 120th Avenue. A Peña Boulevard and E-470 interchange has already been plotted.
Financing for an E-470 extension to 160th Avenue has yet to be secured; it should be remembered that the southeast portion of E-470 has priority and is still far from completion.
Construction has been approved for a road starting at Colorado Highway 60 and U.S. Highway 85 north of Platteville and running straight north to about where U.S. Highway 34 splits, west of Greeley. This would relieve drivers of the hard turn U.S. 85 takes toward Greeley and give those heading to Loveland and Fort Collins a more direct path from DIA.
One vision has the road then continuing at a 45-degree angle, past Windsor to I-25 near Fort Collins, through land that some believe will in time attract plenty of development.
Demographics and funding concerns will keep these time-savers a fantasy for many years. That fact pulls a sigh out of Spiro Palmer.
“That’s a concern,” he said with a laugh. “I once hoped to have enough money to move the airport closer to myself, but it doesn’t look like that will happen.”

A trip to Denver’s airport requires a roadmap

For many Coloradans, Denver International Airport is like an attractive airhead — nice to look at, but pretty expensive to keep up and not always helpful in times of stress.
Baggage systems, runway cracks and bad parking aside, a major concern for Front Range residents is the hopscotch path required to get to DIA. With the simplest, quickest route no longer on interstates (as was the trip to the old Stapleton International Airport), travelers have been forced to improvise.
Someday, a toll road might carry northern Front Range traffic straight to DIA, but…

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