Opponents of CDOT’s I-70 Widening File Suit Against the Federal Highway Administration

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

In February, Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shailen Bhatt told a group of people fighting the widening of I-70 through north Denver neighborhoods to “sue us.” The advocates took his advice.

The lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration, brought by developer Kyle Zeppelin and other opponents of the highway widening, will officially be filed Monday — the last possible date to challenge the environmental impact statement (EIS).

FHWA approved and is helping to fund CDOT’s project. The complaint says the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to conduct sufficient oversight of the project’s EIS.

The suit takes specific aim at the agreement Denver reached with CDOT in 2015 that put local taxpayers on the hook for a project to funnel stormwater away from the 40-foot ditch the agency plans to dig to widen the freeway. The FHWA approved an EIS that did not account for the flood protection project, and the lawsuit aims to “show that both the City of Denver and CDOT intentionally hid the connection between the Platte to Park Hill Drainage Project and the Central I-70 project,” according to a press release.

Other lawsuits are still pending against CDOT’s plan to triple the footprint of I-70, which would generate more traffic and displace people in the mostly low-income, Latino neighborhoods of Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville. Advocates fighting the highway widening are going for a cumulative effect in court.

“Rather than have a single strategy, we’re trying to have a multi-pronged strategy,” said Brad Evans, who runs the Ditch the Ditch advocacy group and is also a plaintiff.

In related legal developments, there will be a hearing in DC this September for a lawsuit that challenges the Environmental Protection Agency’s lax air quality standards. And there’s also an active lawsuit against the city over the City Park Golf Course water detention plan tied to I-70.

“The ideal outcome would be to put an end to the whole project,” said Jennifer Winkel, a local activist and spokesperson for the plaintiffs. “There are four lawsuits, and this is the one that will stall it, buy us some time … If we tie it up in the courts, that buys us time for the other lawsuits to do what they need to do.”

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