[Floodgap Roadgap presents the Summer of 6]

Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 14: US 6 in Colorado (Clear Creek to Interstate 76/Denver; Clear Creek County, Jefferson County, City and County of Denver, Adams County)

Go to: Part 13 | Main US 6 page | Part 15

In this section we enter the consolidated city and county of Denver, the capital and largest city of the state of Colorado. With a population of 682,545 [2015], Denver is the 21st largest city in the United States. Its nickname as the Mile High City is well-deserved: while its official elevation as measured at a convenient spot on the state capitol steps is indeed 5,280 feet, the city elevation actually gets as high as 5,690' (1730m) in some places. The most populous city in the Mountain West Region, it is a major Midwest hub for agriculture, industry and culture with a census metropolitan statistical area gross product of $157.6 billion [2010]. The modern city, named for Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver, was founded in 1858 and incorporated in 1861; the city and county were consolidated in 1902.

US 6 generally follows its later 1952 alignment into Golden along the Clear Creek Canyon, formed by the eponymous creek that runs within it. At that point it diverts off on a bypass alignment around Golden into Denver; the old routing passes through downtown Golden to join with US 40/BL 70 on Colfax Avenue just south of the modern interstate and north of the modern US 6 bypass. In 1954 US 6 was moved south to 6th Avenue and up Federal Blvd, partially on which the modern freeway is built. From there, the exact old alignment through downtown Denver is not clear but appears to have been along Broadway (using the 8th Ave connector) and the now obliterated 46th Avenue to Vasquez Blvd where the modern alignment continues. This routing is no longer traversible in this direction due to the loss of 46th and the fact that Broadway traffic is southbound (westbound) only, so we won't follow it here. Along the way it passes near the state capitol and a number of local museums and tourist destinations on its way out of town to Interstate 76, which replaces US 6 through much of northeastern Colorado. We'll discuss that a bit more when we get there.

Denver is the terminus of two pre-US Highway thoroughfares, the Omaha-Lincoln-Denver Highway (OLD) and the Detroit-Lincoln-Denver Highway (DLD), its successor, which in this region is represented by the former US 38 and the earliest incarnation of CO 81 (Part 15), both becoming absorbed into US 6 after 1937. We'll discuss this in more detail in Nebraska where some actual historical remnants lie but point out some division points in service of that later digression.

US 6/US 40

The earliest alignment of US 6 was shared with US 40 over Mount Vernon Canyon, which US 40 still follows today. Between 1937 and 1952, with delays for contention with the railroad right of way and World War II, a new alignment was built along Clear Creek Canyon to the north (we met Clear Creek in Part 13). Even this routing is tight and frequently inadequate, though there are few alternatives in this very rugged region of the Rockies.

Despite US 40 being the older route, the brief common portion as we exit from I-70 is carried on US 6 internally. This begins segment 006G at Mile 257.079 (but the actual mileposts don't show it until the half-mile here).
US 40 diverts south along Mt Vernon Cyn shortly after, with distance signage here to Golden.

US 6

We continue alone along US 6 into Golden.

Awful close to the rocks though!
Just in case you missed it: this is Clear Creek.
The first of the six Clear Creek Canyon tunnels at Mile 259. The tunnels were some of the earliest portions completed, partially with WPA money in the late 1930s. The tunnels are numbered going westward from Golden; this is number 6.
Number 5.
Number 4, obliterated after road upgrades in 1998 replaced the old US 6/CO 119 junction with a properly controlled T instead of a wye.
Junction CO 119, heading north to the mountain casino town of Blackhawk and arcing east into Boulder as a major regional arterial, from which it makes another grand arc into Longmont to terminate at I-25.
Jefferson county line.
Jefferson County, Colorado

Billed as the "Gateway to the Rocky Mountains," Jefferson county is the fourth-most populous county in Colorado. Among its major employers is the Coors Brewing Company, the largest single brewery facility in the world, still operating from the county seat of Golden. The state Colorado School of Mines is also located in the county, offering degrees in not only geology and mining but also chemistry, computational sciences and engineering. The county's name harks back to the old Territory of Jefferson when local residents seceded from what was then Arapahoe county in the Kansas Territory and named their new territory after President Thomas Jefferson, organizing it into twelve new counties in 1859. Their action had no official sanction, but President James Buchanan did organize the Territory of Colorado in 1861 and the new territorial assembly formed the new and present-day Jefferson county in roughly the same region as part of the state's original 17. It was subsequently diminished to its present acreage by transfers to Park county and the consolidated city-counties of Denver and Broomfield. Often abbreviated to Jeffco, an appellation that appears on many local businesses and districts, the county has a population of 565,524 [2015]. Unfortunately, the modern day alignment of US 6 skirts most of the population centres, so we will see relatively little of those areas.

Continuing on EB US 6.
Mile 262.
The terrain is tight and there are many sharp curves. CDOT eventually added rumble strips and other safety features in subsequent upgrades.
Tunnel 2.
Mile 267.
Hi, Clear Creek.
The final Tunnel 1.
Entering Golden.
Named for one of Jeffco's earliest prospectors, Thomas L. Golden, who arrived during the Pike's Peak gold rush in 1858, Golden is the county seat of Jefferson county. Interestingly, Golden's name was applied to the new townsite being platted even though he himself did not actually live there, despite being a resident of the region. Golden City, as it was then called, was the capital of the Territory of Jefferson until 1861 when President Buchanan established the Territory of Colorado; Golden City remained the territorial capital until 1867, when it was moved east to Denver City. Coors and the Colorado School of Mines are both in Golden, which was founded 1859 and incorporated in 1871. The modern city has 18,867 residents [2010].
Junction CO 93 and CO 58. CO 93 is another, more direct connector to Boulder rather than the gnarly CO 119; CO 58 is a freeway except for this westernmost segment between Golden and I-70 at Wheat Ridge, six miles east.
Prior to US 6's southern realignment, the exact old alignment in Golden is difficult to discern but probably ran along 6th St to Ford St, and then out of town as S Golden Rd. The connectors between CO 58/6th St and 6th/Ford are now obliterated, and it is unclear if US 6 ran on the Ford/Jackson couplet on the southeast side of town or merely on Ford. We turn right onto the modern US 6 bypass, built originally 1956-7.
Mile 272.
Continuing along the US 6 bypass.
At the time these pictures were taken, US 6 was still an expressway, with at-grade intersections. Since then CDOT has upgraded the alignment between CO 58 and CO 470 to full freeway with grade separation.
Junction CO 470 to I-70.
CO 470, as the number implies, was intended to become "Interstate 470" as the Denver metro beltway. Although the goal was a complete beltway around the metropolitan area, substantial public health and environmental opposition mounted during the 1970s and the original plan was abandoned. Instead, CDOT built a partial southwest bypass between 1980 and 1990 then called the Centennial Parkway running between US 6 and, eventually, I-25. This became the state highway and was constructed to freeway standards; reflecting its history, it is largely Interstate standard as well. Nevertheless, there are no plans to re-sign CO 470 as an Interstate after I-470 was eliminated by the FHWA in 1977.

CDOT had no appetite to continue building the beltway afterwards, but a number of municipalities did and constructed their segments as tollways. E-470, administered by eight local governments that formed the E-470 Public Highway Authority and not CDOT, was built between 1991 and 2003 and runs from I-25/CO 470 in Lone Tree to I-25 in Thornton. It has one of the highest toll rates of any such facility in the United States, over 36 cents per mile, and is among the earliest toll roads to not accept cash.

Subsequently, the city and county of Bloomfield continued "470" from the I-25/E-470 interchange to US 36. The 11-mile Northwest Parkway extension is separately administered from E-470 and opened in 2003. Typical of such projects, the tollway's take has underperformed its original estimates and the tollway bond debt suffered downgrading.

Meanwhile, the city of Golden, alarmed by the prospect of additional traffic increases, blocked a further extension plan in 2001 advanced by the cities of Westminster and Arvada. Negotiations between the cities and CDOT resulted in a compromise environmental impact study to evaluate additional alternatives. The expected routing for "W-470" will likely follow Indiana Street and CO 93, though the scheduled 2020 construction date seems highly optimistic. If "W-470" is built as intended, the planned Jefferson Parkway extension between CO 93 and the Northwest Pkwy would finally finish the beltway with it, albeit with little administrative resemblance to what was originally designed.

Junction US 40 (again), on Colfax Avenue carrying BL 70 (but only the eastbound access is signed as such), at Mile 275.
The actual historic junction between US 6 and US 40 appears to have been Colfax Ave and Golden Rd, roughly southeast of the modern Interstate and northeast of this elongated connection. There is no direct access to I-70 from US 6.
Begin US 6 freeway.
The US 6 freeway in eastern Jeffco/western Denver is known as the 6th Avenue Fwy, since it was built over 6th Ave. The original expressway was built as part of the Denver-Golden US 6 bypass in 1956-7, as previously mentioned. The freeway upgrade proceeded west from I-25, completed in this area in 1957, to Federal Blvd in 1960, to Kipling St by 1965, and to the point here by 1966.
Junction CO 391, a local arterial known as Kipling Pkwy and Kipling St.
City and County of Denver, Colorado

For some reason, the Denver city/county line signage was apparently missing at the time.

Advance signage for CO 88, on Federal Blvd, a marginal local arterial, and the I-25 junction (with unsigned US 87). On its north end CO 88 connects to BL 70/US 40 on Colfax Avenue, carrying US 287 from the east, from which US 287 then proceeds north from CO 88's terminus.
Junction I-25. This is the end of segment 006G at Mile 284.489. We exit north onto I-25/US 87/US 85 (both unsigned).
The Sixth Avenue Fwy continues to a terminus at the two-way couplet of Santa Fe Dr and Kalamath St. This is the historic junction of US 6 and US 85, and most likely was the, or one of the, western termin(us/i) of the OLD and DLD. We will encounter the eastern end of the OLD (but not the DLD) in Part 21.

I-25/US 87/US 85/US 6

Interstate 25 is a major north-south arterial, though unlike many I-x5 2 digit Interstates it does not cross any international borders. Instead, it starts at I-10 in Las Cruces, NM (we photographed it) and travels through Albuquerque, NM, Colorado Springs, CO, Denver and Cheyenne, WY on its way to its northern terminus at I-90 in Buffalo, WY for a total of 1,063 miles. I-25 generally replaces US 85 in almost all of New Mexico and substantial portions of Colorado, and US 87 in all of Colorado and in Wyoming up until I-25's northern terminus. The corouting of US 87 with I-25 is unusual in that the highways do not separately exist at all within Colorado (US 87 is overlaid on I-25 for its entire length), and for that reason although US 87 technically exists in Colorado it has no signage anywhere within it. As US 87 had previously been (re)built as expressway and freeway in many locations, it was simply given to I-25 and little other remnant remains. Most of I-25 in Colorado was complete by 1970, though many Colorado segments became woefully inadequate for their traffic volumes and were expanded in the early 2000s. The major portions of the Denver I-25 expansion were complete by the time these photographs were taken.

For that matter, US 6 is not signed anywhere along I-25 either, at least not that I could determine at the time.

Merging onto I-25, with advance signage for the US 40 junction. This is the only place in Colorado where US 287 meets its parent US 87, and neither route is signed from I-25.
Continuing through metro Denver.
Mile High Field, here in its form as Invesco Field at Mile High in summer 2006, where the Denver Donkeys Broncos appear to engage in a sport that may resemble American football (go Chargers! die Chargers for moving from my home town! I hate everybody in the AFC West!). Opening in 2001 to replace the historic 1948 Mile High Stadium (in which many teams played, including the Colorado Crappies Rockies [go Padres!] before moving to Coors Field in 1994) which was demolished, investment management company Invesco controversially paid $120 million for the original naming rights which many fans opposed. The Denver Post's objections for several years were so strong they refused to use the new name.
In 2011, the name transferred to Sports Authority in a new 25-year contract, and the facility is now officially Sports Authority Field at Mile High. It is unclear what will happen now after Sports Authority's Chapter 11 bankruptcy and restructuring.
Junction I-70 once again. US 85 jumps off with us onto EB I-70.

I-70/US 6/US 85

Sorry about the quality of this segment; I was shooting nearly directly into the sun here.

Interestingly, this alignment is, in fact, signed!
We don't stay on I-70 very long and divert off after barely a mile on I-70.

US 6/US 85

US 85 is a true border-to-border highway (as reflected by its name as the United States portion of the CanAm Highway), but you wouldn't know it in the Southwest where much of it is on paper and anonymously co-routed with Interstate highways. Starting from the Mexican border as MX 45 in El Paso, TX (with US 62 which we see much later when we get further north), it joins with I-10 into New Mexico where it then exits with I-25. Except for a business loop in Las Vegas, NM, it is completely co-routed with I-25 until well into Colorado, and not signed at all along the Interstate in either state until that point. It has separate alignments in Colorado Springs and Denver, returning to the Interstate between them, until I-70 and US 6. North of I-76 (which we'll reach shortly), it becomes a largely independent highway again through the rest of Colorado and most of Wyoming except for some US highway co-routings and its alignment over I-180 in Cheyenne, the only fully at-grade Interstate in the nation. It mostly retains its old historic routing from there into the Dakotas and the Canadian border at Fortuna, ND where it continues into Saskatchewan as SK 35.

The CanAm Highway concept began as early as the 1920s, and continues from US 85's terminus along SK 35 to SK 39, SK 6, SK 3 and SK 2 to terminate in La Ronge, SK. (The continuations along MX 45 and SK 102 are not considered part of the CanAm.) Its total length in both countries is 1,975 miles.

Turning left onto Vazquez Boulevard from I-70. This begins segment 006H at Mile 290.98.
This segment is an expressway, with occasional grade separation. We leave the city and county of Denver into Adams county, similarly unsigned at the time.
Adams County, Colorado

Named for Colorado Governor Alva Adams, best known for his notorious spat with predecessor and successor Governor James Peabody (in which both called the other illegitimate and both committed illegal electoral acts in office) which ended in his removal and brief replacement with Peabody, the county was formed in 1901 out of Arapahoe county and sectioned down to its present size. Part of the county was transferred to Denver in 1989 for the present-day Denver International Airport (the largest airport in the United States in physical size), which Adams county completely surrounds, and another section to the city and county of Broomfield in 2001. Colorado's fifth-largest county by population, it counts 491,337 residents [2015] with its seat since 1901 at Brighton.

Junction Interstate 270/unsigned US 36. Matt Salek has a nice picture of the old southbound gantry. CO 2 briefly joins with us from the south in an unsigned merge ...
... to split off again, feeding the eastern Denver region as it runs between US 285 and CO 7.
EB US 6/NB US 85.
Junction CO 224, a minor local connector, and advance signage for Interstate 76.
Proceeding to the Interstate.
Joining I-76. This is the end of segment 006H at Mile 296.32.
Continue to Part 15
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