Hickenlooper on I-70: A Wider Highway Will Be Good for Your Health

Even as Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx calls on state officials to mend the scars left by urban highways in the 1950s and 60s, Governor John Hickenlooper is recycling 60-year-old talking points to justify making the I-70 scar even wider in north Denver.

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Governor John Hickenlooper thinks the billion-dollar I-70 boondoggle will be money well spent.

Streetsblog NYC’s David Meyer got a few minutes with the governor while he was in New York on Friday for the Regional Plan Association’s annual assembly. Ironically, RPA selected Hickenlooper to deliver a keynote due to the “bold example” he supposedly set on sustainability issues in Colorado.

In the interview with Streetsblog, Hickenlooper called a wider, 10-lane I-70 a “basic minimum level of road capacity.” He also claimed that contrary to decades of experience with road expansion projects, the I-70 widening won’t induce more traffic.

“[More lanes] lead to more congestion if you don’t augment them with transit, and that’s the big difference,” Hickenlooper said, referring to new regional rail lines. “So we are committed to transit, but you know, what will happen is, if we don’t add capacity in that east-west 1-70 [corridor], we’re really going to strangle — already we’re seeing people driving through the neighborhoods. Getting off the interstates. They’ve got to get somewhere, and they’re going through the neighborhoods.”

That’s exactly how 1950s highway planners justified road projects that devastated cities. But as Hickenlooper learned long ago, wider highways don’t fix traffic. They induce more. And those drivers don’t stay on the highway for their entire trip — they begin and end on local streets.

If Hickenlooper makes I-70 wider, it will carry more cars, and more people — not fewer — will drive through the neighborhoods that I-70 slices through on their way to and from the freeway.

Hickenlooper also claimed that creating more space for cars will somehow decrease pollution. “So you want to be able to handle your rush hours, and if you can get a little bit of transit with rush hours and then you get your road capacity just down a little bit, then the traffic moves and the pollution is much, much lower,” he said.

Again, this is the same argument planners were making 60 years ago. In real life, the fantasy of wider, free-flowing highways reducing pollution turned out to be wishful thinking, as more cars filled the bigger roads, spewing more toxins and greenhouse gases into the air. That’s one reason the Sierra Club and local residents have filed suit against the I-70 project in federal court.

“You have to try to get all the facts, and really be objective,” Hickenlooper told Streetsblog. So when Colorado DOT uses outdated traffic models to justify the I-70 project, is that being “objective”?

Hickenlooper also rejected the idea of rerouting I-70 through less populated areas and restoring north Denver’s original street grid. “Our suburban neighbors would go nuts,” he said. “They would fight it tooth and nail.” Many Denver residents are fighting the I-70 project tooth and nail, though, and he’s not listening to them.

  • Stevie

    Hickenlooper is a walking contradiction when it comes to environmental issues. While mayor, Hickenlooper, wanted Denver to be sustainable. Ok, so how is the I-70 Expansion making Denver sustainable? It’s not. As governor, in Sept. 2015, he proposed a climate plan for Colorado. When you first read it you get excited that Hick will do something about it. I mean, he knows we need to reduce greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels and knows that we need a plan. Though his plan had no real clear cut way to solve this other than using words like “promote” and “encourage,” but is it aggressive enough to actually make a real difference? Hick is more concerned about traffic jams and people driving through neighborhoods to avoid traffic and the cost than he is about actually tackling climate change and climate justice. Here’s how he wants to address transportation with his proposal: “Transportation: Promote and encourage fuel-efficient vehicle technologies and programs to reduce vehicle emissions; provide guidance to local governments on land use planning strategies to promote efficient use of public resources and reduce GHG emissions through compact, transit-oriented development that utilizes smart growth practices and complete streets. – See more at: https://www.colorado.gov/governor/news/gov-hickenlooper-announces-colorado-climate-plan#sthash.jUDKydsW.dpuf

  • The Overhead Wire

    We know from the research that particulate matter near freeways is bad for health. Also, everyone pays for neighborhood streets. I don’t see what the big deal is about people driving on them.

  • Walter Crunch

    So, let’s destroy a neighborhood forever? And decrease the air quality? Follow the money.

    • rockerred

      That horse already out of the barn. This places as a vital functioning neighborhood, was destroyed by the late 70s. Sad, yes. But true.

  • rockerred

    Apples and oranges here. The I70 proposal is not to put in an interstate. It’s already there. And it sure is in poor shape, jamming up the entire nearby network of highways. If we had to do it all over again, I’d got for a system kinda like the german autobahns, that connect the cities by skirting them on the edge, with robust highly-subsidized public transit of all sorts to get around within the ring. Commercial delivery only at night, and so forth.

    Since we don’t have that, makes no sense to simply uproot one segment of a vast highway system. Unless of course this is part of a master plan to get rid of all of the urban highways. In which case I want all of my big bottles of water and soda delivered, because that’s what they do in places where people don’t drive.

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