The Denver Post Cheers for a Car-Choked Future

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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: Wikimedia Commons

Some people think widening highways is just an inherently good idea — the more space for traffic, the better. Count the Denver Post in that camp. The Post recently threw its wholehearted support behind widening I-70 by four lanes.

Believing that wider highways will fix traffic problems is like believing that loosening your belt will fix your waistline. We have tons of evidence that creating more room for cars actually makes traffic worse in the long run.

In the piece, the Post doesn’t mention the outdated, ludicrous traffic projections that CDOT used to justify the widening. The paper also writes off younger generations’ preference to drive less as something that only “sounds plausible on the surface.”

The Post’s whole argument boils down to the idea that I-70 should be widened because no opportunity to widen a highway should go to waste:

Now, it’s absolutely true that you can’t build your way out of congestion in metro Denver or indeed on much of the Front Range because of constraints of land and money. Smart transportation policy must be based on other strategies. But that doesn’t mean when the opportunity presents itself to add capacity to a major highway that has to be reconstructed anyway — in this case because of a structurally deficient viaduct — that the state shouldn’t seize the opportunity to address capacity.

That’s especially true in a metro area that continues to add residents at a fast clip.

Sure, if you want Denver to grow into a traffic-choked monument to car dependence like Houston or LA, by all means widening I-70 is the way to go. Why stop there? If only Colorado DOT had endless money and space, the agency could build highways on top of highways!

But there’s a reason that Houston’s mayor wants to stop widening highways, and LA is moving forward with a “Mobility Plan” that calls for repurposing street space from cars to transit and bikes. They eventually came to the realization that adding traffic lanes was making it harder for other modes of transportation to succeed. More car traffic slows down transit and makes fewer people want to bike or walk.

It has yet to dawn on the Post, apparently, that bigger highways are an obstacle to smart transportation policy.

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