Get Ready for More Traffic as CDOT Plows Ahead With I-70 Expansion

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If Colorado DOT gets its way, I-70 will resemble this 10-lane freeway in California’s East Bay — at first. Eventually part of I-70 will be 12 lanes wide. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

There are plenty of reasons why the scheme to widen I-70 in north Denver is subject to so much scrutiny: It’s going to cause more traffic, relocate 74 homes and businesses, pollute some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and cost between $1 billion and $2 billion to build.

Oh, and Colorado DOT used questionable traffic projections to justify the project.

In addition to the neighborhood backlash, the I-70 project has undergone so much scrutiny because it’s the law — the feds require local agencies to assess the impact of major transportation projects on their surroundings. But the process is long and complex, and often seems like a rote exercise rather than a means to fix bad ideas.

CDOT just published the final version of its I-70 impact statement, and it’s easy to see why the process breeds cynicism. Nothing much has changed. I-70 will get wider, at first going from eight lanes to 10 on one stretch, and from six lanes to eight on others. Colorado DOT plans to add two more lanes in the future. More traffic and more pollution is coming.

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Phase one of the I-70 expansion. Note how Colorado DOT made a pleasant, green map out of a massive highway widening in city neighborhoods. Image: Colorado DOT

In the end, I-70’s lane totals will look like this:

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Phase two. Image: Colorado DOT

The new lanes will be “tolled express lanes,” according to the report. Colorado DOT might allow vehicles with three or more people to use them for free.

The release of the CDOT impact statement is close to the last step before implementation. Starting Friday, the public can comment on the document for one month, plus Colorado DOT will hold some public hearings. After that, the project will either be legally permitted or it won’t. Lawsuits could also come into play and delay construction.

The review process isn’t going to stop this project, but it does shed light on the huge mismatch between the problems the public identified and CDOT’s response. Over and over in its report, CDOT says it has “adequately addressed” concerns about the I-70 widening. Streetsblog has been digging through the document and we’ll be running a series of follow-up posts so you can decide for yourself if the agency’s responses are up to snuff. Stay tuned.

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