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.

  • Chris

    Very disappointing to see that Anthony Fox has allowed this. Elain Chao would have had this approved a lot quicker. We now get a Lexus lane, more pollution, and continue hurting neighborhoods.

  • Ben Schumacher

    Every time this plan is referenced in the general media, they tout the benefits of a highway cap, even though it’s only over about 1000 feet of highway, while ignoring the negative impacts of more lanes of highway.

  • Walter Crunch

    Also, in this brand new project that is essentially new from the ground up, there are zero contiguous biking/walking facilities. Seems to me, with a blue sky proposal like this, adding in a MUP from end to end would be easy and low cost. Portland did it decades ago. Where is CDOT?

    Say it with me. Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrs. Truuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.

    A non stop source of pollution and revenue with zero meaningful access for those who don’t have an engine between their legs.

  • Bridget walsh

    The Democrats have really done a number on us. Secretary of Transportation Foxx, Obama, Hancock , Hickenlooper…. Why are we still voting for them?

    • gojoblogo

      It is really your experience that Republican-run cities and states build less roads and favor alternative transportation? Because that is certainly not my experience.

      • Bridget walsh

        My point is that both parties represent the rich and ignore everyone else. Democrats can be worse than Republicans because people tend to trust the Democrats as the “good guys”. Not in my memory.

  • Bridget walsh

    My point is not that either party is helping us. The Democrats have pushed through a killing freeway expansion , I 70. Mayor Hancock and Governor Hickenlooper, both Democrats, are championing this environmental, social and economic injustice .
    So what’s the difference if the Republicans are at the trough or the Democrats? The results are the same. Corporate control of the the government and the people be damned. I think that is the classic definition of fascism. Trump won’t be much different that what we’ve had in Colorado. A heartless EPA that responds to the wishes of the “elites” who run the show in denver and Colorado.Who will miss them?Communities helpless to protect themselves for the oil and gas profiteers. A City Council that bows to every wish of a Mayor who seems to be run by very few developers. A governor who drinks fracking and mine spill water and works to restrict citizens’ access to government. He dooesn’t even have a public email address and neither does his staff. Let them eat cake.