Feds Approve CDOT Plan to Shove Wider I-70 Through Mostly Latino Neighborhoods

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

The Federal Highway Administration signed off today on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s I-70 expansion project. The decision clears the way for CDOT to use federal funds on a highway widening project that will send more traffic through northeast Denver neighborhoods and displace residents from their longtime homes in Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville.

Residents of the mostly Latino neighborhoods say the project will have a disparate impact on Denverites who have historically been disadvantaged because of their race or ethnicity. They filed a civil rights complaint that prompted an FHWA investigation.

FHWA spokesperson Doug Hecox told Denverite that the agency “did not find that the project violated the Civil Rights Act,” but advocates working on the case say they have yet to see the outcome of the investigation.

“This reaffirms CDOT’s commitment to moving forward with the path that disparately impacts the Latino residents of Elyria-Swansea and Globeville,” said Joel Minor, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represents community groups in the civil rights complaint. “It will only exacerbate the asthma and other air pollution-related diseases that people in the neighborhood are already suffering from. It will expedite the process of displacing the approximately 200 people who are being forced out of their homes by the project, and it will only reaffirm our plans, desires, drive to show why the proposed and now finalized expansion violates their civil rights.”

FHWA has not released any findings from its investigation, Minor said.

In addition, the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter and neighborhood residents filed a lawsuit last March against the Environmental Protection Agency to stop the project.

Even with federal funding, CDOT doesn’t have the money to pay for the entire I-70 project. So CDOT will look for a consortium to build “phase one” of the widening at a cost of $1.2 billion. That will consist of building a wider highway between Brighton Boulevard and Tower Road, a 12-mile stretch, that’s two lanes wider than the current I-70.

CDOT is still contemplating a second phase that would widen the road by four lanes, but doesn’t have the money to build it. “Given the state of transportation funding, this is the most we’re gonna be able to accomplish,” CDOT spokesperson Rebecca White said, at least “in the foreseeable future.”

Mayor Michael Hancock, whose administration promised taxpayer funding for the widening in exchange for flood protection from CDOT, laid it on thick in a press release.

“Today marks a major milestone for our community with the FHWA’s approval of the considerable Central 70 commitments CDOT has made to the city,” Hancock stated. He applauded a four-acre cover that will be built over the sunken I-70 and insisted that the city will work with CDOT “so that this project benefits our entire community.”

Yes, with that park capping a piece of I-70, neighborhood kids can play on top of the highway instead of next to it. Never mind that it will displace longtime residents and induce more traffic and pollution in the city.