Opponents of CDOT’s I-70 Widening File Suit Against the Federal Highway Administration

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

In February, Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shailen Bhatt told a group of people fighting the widening of I-70 through north Denver neighborhoods to “sue us.” The advocates took his advice.

The lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration, brought by developer Kyle Zeppelin and other opponents of the highway widening, will officially be filed Monday — the last possible date to challenge the environmental impact statement (EIS).

FHWA approved and is helping to fund CDOT’s project. The complaint says the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct sufficient oversight of the project’s EIS.

The suit takes specific aim at the agreement Denver reached with CDOT in 2015 that put local taxpayers on the hook for a project to funnel stormwater away from the 40-foot ditch the agency plans to dig to widen the freeway. The FHWA approved an EIS that did not account for the flood protection project, and the lawsuit aims to “show that both the City of Denver and CDOT intentionally hid the connection between the Platte to Park Hill Drainage Project and the Central I-70 project,” according to a press release.

Other lawsuits are still pending against CDOT’s plan to triple the footprint of I-70, which would generate more traffic and displace people in the mostly low-income, Latino neighborhoods of Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville. Advocates fighting the highway widening are going for a cumulative effect in court.

“Rather than have a single strategy, we’re trying to have a multi-pronged strategy,” said Brad Evans, who runs the Ditch the Ditch advocacy group and is also a plaintiff.

In related legal developments, there will be a hearing in DC this September for a lawsuit that challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s lax air quality standards. And there’s also an active lawsuit against the city over the City Park Golf Course water detention plan tied to I-70.

“The ideal outcome would be to put an end to the whole project,” said Jennifer Winkel, a local activist and spokesperson for the plaintiffs. “There are four lawsuits, and this is the one that will stall it, buy us some time … If we tie it up in the courts, that buys us time for the other lawsuits to do what they need to do.”

  • TakeFive

    You never know you just might get a friendly judge. This was certainly the case when conservative NIMBY’s filed suit against the pending new transit Purple Line in Maryland. http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/2017/Judges-Legal-Logic-Questioned-After-Latest-Ruling-in-Purple-Line-Case/ That case is being appealed to the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/2017/Maryland-Asks-Court-of-Appeals-to-Reinstate-Federal-Approval-for-Purple-Line/

    Not a lawyer but the weakness would seem to be that contrary to what the suit suggests, CDOT is not dependent nor cares about Denver’s Platte to Park Hill Drainage Project. That’s a whole other topic.and concern of Denver not CDOT. CDOT’s willingness to be a good neighbor isn’t likely material I wouldn’t think.

    • Mike McDaniel

      They care. You should read the IGA between the City and CDOT: Denver agreed to take care of the Ditch drainage.

      • TakeFive

        Eh, perhaps the use of “care” wasn’t the best or open to interpretation. The fact that something may be mutually beneficial may lead to smart cooperation but isn’t the same as being dependent. Below grade freeways exist many places and ofc addressing drainage or storm water runoff is always addressed.

        FWIW, where I currently live (Phx) below grade freeways are preferred by the neighborhoods. Is it any surprise that such below grade freeways run though much of Scottsdale?

  • Heidi Harris

    Good. The whole thing is one big Ponzi scheme designed to make taxpayers pay for the privatization of public transportation. If you are poor –you cannot live in Denver—or travel major interstates— Thats the plan! Same concerns in Texas with the Trans Texas corridor project…now they are pushing back on toll roads. I was involved in the Denver drainage fight before I decided to sell…Denver judges tried to garnish my wages over a small claims case I filed two years earlier, allowing an argument that was not applicable to the case. They ruled I owed attorney fees to the defense in excess of the small claims limit…10k. Laws even state no person representing themselves can be assessed attorney fees. Colorado is severely corrupt. If you fight the CDOT project Hancock will try to destroy you through the judicial system and his private DNC lobbyist law firm, who stands to make a killing off this project. Follow the money…

    • Heidi Harris

      It will be interesting to see how this all plays out with the fresh eyes in Washington DC…Let’s see how good the lobbyists are in Colorado. Wink wink

  • DoTheTwerk

    I think the plaintiffs need a new spokesperson. According to Jennifer Winkel: “There are four [FRIVOLOUS!] lawsuits, and this is the one that will stall it, buy us some time … If we tie it up in the courts, that buys us time for the other [FRIVOLOUS!] lawsuits to do what they need to do.” Not precisely how lawsuits are supposed to be contemplated/initiated.

    I’m sure the Highway Administration’s attorneys will happily feature that brilliant quote in their response to the [FRIVOLOUS] complaint…

  • Bjorn

    “This is the one that will stall it”

    That statement is not going to help them at all!

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