Denver Post Regurgitates Colorado DOT’s Talking Points on I-70

Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville residents speak out against the widening of I-70. They wore bandannas to symbolize the air pollution the project will cause. Photo: David Sachs
Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville residents speak out against the widening of I-70. They wore bandannas to symbolize the air pollution the project will cause. Photo: David Sachs

The Denver Post editorial board might as well be a mouthpiece for the Colorado Department of Transportation. Like an extension of the CDOT PR team, the paper is playing defense for the agency as it battles a new round of legal action against its I-70 widening project.

On Tuesday the Post published a piece, “Ditch the delay on Interstate 70 expansion,” that regurgitated the agency’s well-polished talking points about widening the highway through Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea.

To have the Post tell it, widening an interstate through city neighborhoods is actually a community connector, a jobs program, an affordable housing solution, an investment in our children, and a boon for outdoor recreation. That must be why so many cities are solving their problems these days by spending billions of dollars on traffic-generating, sprawl-inducing highway expansion projects.

Before the Post gets into — no joke — “the right way to take 56 homes and to saddle a community with years of construction and an expanded interstate,” the writers give advocates a condescending pat on the head, declaring they “should be applauded for their diligence and good work.”

What follows could have been written by CDOT. Let’s break the editorial down:

Fortunately, the Colorado Department of Transportation is doing things right as it prepares to expand Interstate 70 and drop it below grade so a cap can reunite communities and become a school playground and park.

If “reunite communities” sounds familiar, that’s because the CDOT communications office has used some form of that phrase for years. In 2015, the agency said the cap would be “reuniting and protecting the neighborhoods.” The year before, an agency press release said the project would “stitch together nearby communities” and “reunite Denver neighborhoods.”

But the cap is just a small part of the project. As a whole, the new I-70 trench would have fewer pedestrian connections than neighborhoods have now under the viaduct, and tripling the footprint of the highway means longer crossings.

Here’s more from the Post:

Plaintiffs question whether CDOT’s engineers adequately accounted for the water that will flow through this floodplain on a project that puts a major interstate below grade. Fair question, but we are satisfied by CDOT’s response that the project’s stormwater system is designed to handle big storms on its own and is not dependent on the city’s near-simultaneous plans to address stormwater issues in the same area.

This obscures what’s really going on. The lawsuit seeks to demonstrate that CDOT misrepresented the scope of the project, because flood control work the city agreed to help pay for is inextricably linked to the I-70 widening — and yet that aspect of the project was not included in CDOT’s environmental review.

Unlike the opinion page, the Post’s newsroom has done good independent reporting on this issue. The paper’s own reporting showed the connections between the I-70 ditch and the flood mitigation work that CDOT claims is unrelated.

But CDOT’s word is good enough for the editorial board. Good thing the answer is up to the courts, not the Post.

The writers go on to praise CDOT for reimbursing residents forced to uproot their lives (it’s the law), contributing $2 million to an unidentified affordable housing initiative, providing windows and air conditioning units to mitigate pollution seeping into homes during construction, and, finally, launching a workforce training center to help meet requirements that 20 percent of I-70 workers are local residents.

These are not high bars to clear. They’re standard operating procedure for a highway agency looking to tamp down resistance to an unpopular project.

In 2017, cities around the country are tearing down highways because of the scars they cut through urban neighborhoods. With the I-70 widening, CDOT is moving in the opposite direction and dragging the city backward. And that’s just fine with the Denver Post.

  • TakeFive

    That must be why so many cities are solving their problems these days by spending billions of dollars on traffic-generating, sprawl-inducing highway expansion projects.

    Were you referring to the under construction 2020 opening of the new 22-mile, 8-lane South Mountain Freeway? https://www.azdot.gov/projects/central-district-projects/loop-202-(south-mountain-freeway)/project-info.

    Just like I-70, The I-10 is a major, critical east-west commuter and freight corridor which has a nice deck park that has worked well now for over 25 years. I suspect you’d have to understand the area to appreciate how a by-pass from west metro to the ~50,000 employee tech industry in the Chandler area will be welcomed and hopefully relieve a lot of traffic pressure on the I-10.

    • Anthony

      While the South Mountain Freeway isn’t as bad at inducing sprawl as many freeway projects, that is due to the Gila River Nation and South Mountain/Estrella Mountain preserves restricting adjacent development. But the concept perseveres; if it used to take an hour and a half to drive from Buckeye to Chandler, and now it takes 50 minutes and housing is $150k cheaper in the West Valley than the East Valley (hint: there’s a reason for that), then yes, builders are going to sprawl westward with nondescript, cheaply built subdivisions as far as the eye can see (See Loop 303).

      The 202 extension was sold as a truck bypass, but if a truck bypass was what AZDOT and MAG really wanted, enhancing 85 would’ve been a much better option. As it stands, the 202 design destroys a healthy chunk of South Mountain itself. While I oppose the freeway itself on principle, I don’t have much sympathy for the ‘Tuke residents who complain about future pollution and noise, since the loop has been on the books since what, 1984, and despite its flaws it’s not the absolute worst highway project in the country (widening I-10 through the Broadway curve to 24 lanes has been thrown about and that would be a disaster, as terrible as traffic through that stretch is).

      • TakeFive

        Wow, dang, I’m impressed 🙂 You’re more knowledgeable and conversant on Phoenix than I am.

        I could pick a few nits but from a wide angle view it’s fair to say Phoenix was developed on a multi-nodal model. What works well for Phoenix like freeways wouldn’t work so well for Denver. The two cities are very different kinds of places although they sorta grew up together. The 303 is really the only ‘sprawl inducing’ freeway that was built, meaning they were ahead of most of the development that will ultimately occur. All the other projects lagged development not led it.

        • Anthony

          I went to ASU, interned at MAG, and lived in NE Mesa for 7 years. Bought in 2006, so I still own and rent out my house down there. Almost above water finally.

          At the very least, the multi-nodal approach has been an interesting experiment. It’s really too bad FLW’s Broadacre City concept has been bastardized so badly, I’d be curious if the urban fabric of multi-nodal would work better in FLW’s vision.

          • TakeFive

            Sorry about your house timing, ugh.

            Since you’re well familiar with MAG I’m curious for your feedback. My idea for metro Denver transportation is a plan that would raise $15.5 billion over 20 or 25 years with $6.5 billion going to RTD, $6 billion going to DRCOG and $3 billion going to counties/cities. First priority was “what would the voters buy into” which also means “what would Mayors/Chambers of Commerce etc be willing to promote and fight for.”

            DRCOG transportation funds wouldn’t have to be just for roads ofc. For example I’d recommend a percentage say 7.5% be set aside for preserving and enhancing riparian ROW’s including bike/ped trails. I’m a yuge fan of the High Line Canal Trail for example. http://highlinecanal.org/

            Consider also that proposed BRT routes will travel on roads that would require/benefit from green streets improvements. BRT along Federal or West Colfax could draw ‘matching’ funds from among Denver/Lakewood, DRCOG, CDOT, RTD and federal grants that could be either for road and/or transit funding.

          • TakeFive

            Let me take it one step further. With respect to RTD, I want one $2 billion bucket that could be leveraged up to ~$3.5 billion in investments. A $billion would go for additional FasTracks funding, a $Billion would go for an Urban Signature LRT Line and a $Billion would go for Modern Streetcar funding with $500 million for Contingency.

            The Urban Signature LRT Line would go from the Civic Center Station south along Broadway to Speer Blvd and then along the Speer/Leetsdale Corridor to the intersection of Parker Rd/Mississippi Ave and the High Line Canal Bike Trail – with an extension from Speer along So Broadway to the I-25 Station. This project could also draw ‘matching’ funds from among Denver, Arapahoe Co, DRCOG/CDOT and RTD and ofc federal funding.

            Just for grins I posted a caricature of RTD needs. http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?p=7861014#post7861014

          • Roads_Wide_Open

            DRCOG funds don’t go to DRCOG proper. They would get allocated out to local governments/regional agencies.

          • TakeFive

            Thanks. I’m obviously not familiar with the current mechanics .My opinion of DRCOG currently is that they’re nothing but a paper tiger. Don’t they serve as a conduit for federal funds? Aside from that you might as well shoot them; they’re worthless IMO.

          • Anthony

            To be blunt, I think as proposed it’s unlikely. The reason is because DRCOG doesn’t have taxing authority, so in order to give them the funding as proposed (using whatever mechanism you’re thinking of, I’m assuming sales tax), the member agencies would have to agree to collect the taxes and vote to increase their dues to DRCOG, only to have DRCOG potentially not select some of their proposed projects. I just can’t envision a scenario where local jurisdictions would agree to a revenue increase for infrastructure improvements, give that money to DRCOG to administer, and then have to apply for the funding to be returned to them and go through DRCOG’s reporting procedures. Coming from Phoenix where local governments rarely coordinated with each other or thought regionally, the cooperation between metro Denver cities is much better so just keeping the funds in the hands of the local jurisdictions who collect the revenue doesn’t preclude regional projects or collaboration, but maybe as a part of the proposal they’re tied to some specific projects outlined in DRCOG’s MetroVision 2040 plan.

            With RTD, the next major capital project absolutely has to be the B line extension. I think NW voters are already ticked, and even with something like this they may view it as being taxed twice for the line they were promised in 2004 (even though the rest of the metro area would be in the same boat). I don’t think $1B will get to Longmont.

            On my “potential HCT corridors map” I have something similar to the Broadway/Speer/Leetsdale route, with varying levels of actual feasibility. One route goes from 38th and Brighton south, along Broadway, east on Speer/1st Avenue, and south on Colorado Boulevard to the Colorado LRT station. The second route takes the built out L line from 38th and Blake down Welton, then instead of going into the loop it goes south on Broadway to Evans station (or at least I-25 and Broadway). The third line (likely BRT) goes from Union Station along 16th street (shared with a Colfax BRT, replacing the Mall Ride and turning boardings on 16th Street into a free fare zone; the Mall Ride vehicles could be redeployed to the Metro Ride and the Metro Ride vehicles could be repurposed for BRT vehicles), south on Broadway, then Parker/Leetsdale corridor eventually splitting the line at Quincy and Parker with a spur continuing south to Parker and another along Smoky Hill to Southlands. Other corridors are Havana/Hampden from Central Park Station to Southwest Plaza, Wadsworth from Southwest Plaza to 88th and Sheridan, Federal Boulevard, and Colorado Boulevard, so I think you’re moving in the right direction.

            The Mississippi terminus is interesting because it doesn’t have a large activity center or space for a parking lot like is typical at end of the line stations. RTD is already working on an enhanced bus through this corridor, which is one reason I would propose the signature LRT line to head south on Colorado. Plus, that ties into the E/F/H lines to enhance regional mobility.

          • TakeFive

            Thanks so much for the great feedback. You definitely know the lay of the land.
            So DRCOG would have to be re-purposed then.

            My problem is I have an extreme jealousy issue. If I assume Prop 400 is extended for another 20 years (which I do) maybe with at least 50% going towards transit then Phoenix continues their amazing funding ability. Set aside LA’s passing Measure M but both peer cities of Seattle and Phoenix will have bucketful’s of transportation $’s for the next 25 years.

            Ultimately, I’ll yield to the professionals and a consensus of voters to make the best decisions. The real obstacle is that w/o funding all the great planing and fun envisioning in the world is merely an exercise in futility. Getting voters onboard and passing funding is the critical challenge… in Denver but not in Phoenix or Seattle.

  • Not one city has yet torn down a stretch of mainline Interstate highway, though a few spur and bypass Interstates and State highways that were never finished have been torn down, and a few older non-Interstate freeways have been converted to surface boulevards in declining cities. Cleveland’s West Shoreway is a good example though Cleveland has lost 67% of its 1960 population and there traffic demand has fallen greatly.

    Buffalo’s NY Rt 5 freeway southwest of downtown that used to run past one of the largest steel mills in the US is another good example of a freeway that has been replaced by a surface boulevard in a city in decline, though the steel mill, which used to employ 30,000 workers, and ship over 1000 truckloads of steel daily, has been closed since 1983, and numerous other industrial properties are also closed along Hwy 5 too.

    Even San Francisco got rid of a partially-finished stretch of what had initially-opened as Interstate 480 only to be stripped of its Interstate highway status 10 years after it was built by an act of California State government in-combination of the FHWA. That part of CA 480 was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the same disaster that collapsed quite a bit of the Nimitz Freeway, I-880, in Oakland. Today what had been the Nimitz Freeway is now a surface boulevard though Alameda Naval Air Station closed in 1997 and with it went some of the traffic that the Nimitz Freeway once served.

    On the other hand Metro-Denver is exploding in population, our highways are rapidly becoming gridlocked, RTD is flat broke for the next 25 years and contractually-obligated to finish the other 50 miles of the long-promised FasTracks system in the north and northwest Metro area for residents that have been paying for it since 2004, and we are in a position where if I-70 is closed traffic will become markedly worse on other routes, both surface streets east and northeast of downtown and I-25 north of downtown too, where we also have to tear buildings down to expand it.

    I know, nobody wants to be forced to move out, though I know somebody who bought a house along I-70 hoping for expansion so that CDOT has to pay him off. If you read CDOT’s reasoning why they chose to expand I-70 rather than I-270 and I-76, there are multiple reasons to keep both freeways, which both need to be expanded.

    Moreover, expanding I-270 and I-76 to 10-12 lanes would displace far more residents than would be displaced in Elyria and Swansea together too, and many more residents would be exposed to higher levels of vehicular pollution too. More residents would be forced to move just from a single mobile home park along I-76 than would be displaced from Elyria and Swansea together also.

    Worse yet a bunch of commercial buildings along I-25 north of I-70 would have to be torn down to widen I-25 to handle the extra demand, which would ream north and northwest metro residents who still don’t have their promised FasTracks trains and won’t have what was promised for 25 years. I-25 north of I-70 is already heavily-congested and your great idea will make it much worse. Globeville residents will also be forced to breathe even more exhaust if your plan is implemented and industrial property values along I-70 east of Steele would be negatively impacted too.

    Contrary to the belief of the Ditch the Ditch crowd the Park Hill drainage issue predates even I-70. For whatever reason the city has failed for many years to resolve it, which led to the death of a Denver fireman when he got sucked into a drain on Colorado and 50th by the US Bank branch there 15 years ago, after 6 inches of rain fell and there was water standing at 4 feet deep all the way from Colorado to east of Monaco due to grossly under-designed drainage capacity serving the entire area. The city is not trying to solve it now to make the I-70 expansion possible either. Why are Elyria and Swansea residents so-opposed to solving the Park Hill drainage issue even after a safe route through the contamination south of the Coliseum has been found for it?

    Even I am not in-favor of closing City Park golf course for 2 years even though I live in Broomfield, and I have proposed two different plans that would only require closing the back 9 for 2-3 months. One of my proposals wouldn’t even need to close the course, it would only require turning the 18th hole into a par-3, and making the rest of it a deep storage basin. The other proposal would create a lake all the way across the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes plus the driving range making the last 3 holes a bit more-difficult. No matter what I proposed Denver’s planners didn’t like it for reasons I can’t fathom unless they are hoping to build housing along York fronting on the golf course.

    I am afraid that CDOT spent many years researching this issue and considering dozens of alternatives, and this was the best that they could come up given a number of constraints. I have already suggested neighborhood residents banding together and trying to find a developer interested in buying the entire neighborhood as a single parcel, which would likely be worth 2-3 times what the combined value of the houses are worth and then moving enmasse somewhere else and rebuilding the neighborhood with a lot more money to start with.

    Nope, it seems that most of the neighborhood residents enjoy living in a heavily- polluted inner-city neighborhood with two railroad mainlines bisecting it as well as a six-lane freeway or a six to eight-lane surface boulevard. That is the problem here, they don’t really want to improve their lives, they just don’t want freeway expansion, regardless of what that does to a million other Metro-Denver residents.

    This kind of reminds me of the Detroit controversy involved in the Poletown Cadillac assembly plant where an entire viable neighborhood was seized through eminent domain just to replace it with a robotic auto assembly plant that created 2500 jobs. There was a lot of local opposition to that plan too and yet today the car plant sits on the site rather than a neighborhood of 2000 people.

    The greater good must also be considered here and there is no question that far more Metro-Denver residents would be negatively-impacted if I-70 is torn-down and replaced by a surface boulevard that only has 20% of current demand capacity. How about we splurge and put the new highway in a deep tunnel all the way from west of the Coliseum to east of Colorado and blow the pollution out to the east end into the industrial park there? I doubt that would be what those who oppose modern freeways would want either.

    Good luck with your lawsuit though I don’t think it has a chance. We are already facing a more than doubling of severe roadway congestion through 2040 and closing I-70 would just make the problem far worse. If we make congestion bad-enough maybe enough people will leave town or discontinue coming downtown, driving property prices down some, which will create more-affordable housing in the process?

    • TakeFive

      Impressive background info. I agree with lots of what you point out.

  • Bernard Finucane

    This is just another sad example of America’s inability to invest in public infrastructure that actually generates wealth.

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