Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: It’s DIA, not DEN. 

Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s talk about the Denver International Airport. First up, Peña Boulevard.

If you live in Colorado, you’ve probably heard about the proposed expansion of Peña Boulevard, the main road leading to DIA. According to reports, traffic has increased by 80% since the airport was built, causing major slowdowns and leading DIA officials to propose a widening of the road. This would notably require 27% of the project funding to come from taxpayer dollars.

To cut to the chase, road expansion is not the answer. Not only are there better uses of taxpayer money, but paving more roads is an antiquated approach that primarily serves to further Colorado’s reliance on individual vehicles. Instead, a better option would be to modernize our approach to airport access altogether. I’ll explain.

The current design of DIA prioritizes an outdated access method for personal vehicle pick-up and drop-off. This is reflected in the road design, extensive parking lots and in how the main buildings manage passenger check-in and security.

Perhaps at one time, this design made sense, but today it forces passengers to incur unreasonable travel costs in the form of fuel, mileage, insurance and parking fees while also increasing local traffic congestion and emissions. Plus, due to an increase in overall fliers, there can be lengthy shuttle times from distant parking lots, not to mention the risk of hail damage or forgetting where your vehicle is parked while you’re gone. Expansion would do little to mitigate most of these issues.

The secondary access point to DIA is via mass transit, which by its secondary planning inherently makes it outdated. For example, although shared transport is often cheaper, it can still require waiting too long outside to get picked up, lugging around heavy bags on buses or trains, getting dropped off underneath the main building and having to take an escalator up in whatever Colorado weather has to offer and walking back and forth across the airport to reach check-in and security areas.

Speaking of security, as DIA wasn’t originally built for the current rate of passengers, security lines have become a nightmare. New lines are said to be under construction, yet given the anticipated growth of DIA could reach a whopping 120 million by 2045, it’s unclear whether such expansions would be sufficient in the long run. Assuming not, DIA ought to get more creative on passenger flow sooner rather than later. 

To that end, expanding Peña Boulevard is not creative or forward-thinking, it’s more business as usual. But if DIA officials used the money currently allocated for the expansion of Peña to develop a whole new airport flow centered around mass transit, it could modernize DIA access and likely better manage a long-term influx of passengers. Off the top of my head, it might look something like this: 

Instead of the airport flow starting at DIA, DIA could start in your home city. For example, imagine checking in your bags at the same time as waiting for the bus or train at the local station. Or in reverse, your checked bags get loaded straight onto the bus or train you’ve booked home, so there’s no more waiting around to pick up luggage.


Or what if you could go through security en route to the airport, saving time along the way? And when you arrive at the airport, you get dropped off by your bus or train directly into a sleek corridor designed to help you with any remaining check-in and security assistance to get you from home to your flight as smoothly as possible. In short, we modernize to bring DIA to you, not the other way around.   

Practically speaking this kind of approach would be far more efficient and save everybody time and money. Plus, by streamlining the rate and flow of passengers arriving at DIA with more predictable transit schedules, the overall experience becomes faster and more enjoyable. It also becomes easier for DIA officials to manage an increase in passengers by creating a process that extends to spaces beyond their immediate walls. And yes, bonus points for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and local traffic at the same time.

This might seem like a big undertaking, but as a state we have a vested interest in encouraging DIA officials to be bold, creative and forward-thinking. Redesigning our airport to emphasize mass transit and modern security access could make DIA a leader in airport flow and efficiency while saving on-site space for more experienced-based revenue.

Now that’d be a DIA worth flying to.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio