Denver’s Largest Neighborhood Organization Demands Hickenlooper, Hancock End Plan to Widen I-70

Reps from CDOT and the city were invited to the forum but did not attend.

CDOT wants more asphalt for cars and trucks. Neighbors do not. Image: CDOT
CDOT wants more asphalt for cars and trucks. Neighbors do not. Image: CDOT

A group representing most of the city’s registered neighborhood organizations voted Saturday to demand a halt to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s planned expansion of I-70 through north Denver.

The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation called for Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock to halt the widening, which will generate more traffic and pollution, “until all health impacts have been eliminated.” INC delegates from neighborhoods across the city voted 22 to 2 in favor of the motion, with four abstentions.

The historically disadvantaged, majority Latino neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea stand to bear the brunt of the project — which faces legal challenges on four separate fronts from grassroots advocates. Aside from generating more traffic and pollution in the country’s most polluted ZIP code, CDOT’s plan will displace 56 homes and 18 businesses while digging up a federally designated Superfund site.

“Kids in those neighborhoods already have a 40 percent greater rate of hospitalizations from asthma — not from kids in Colorado in general, from kids in other Denver neighborhoods… It’s the highway,” said Andrea Gelfuso, an attorney working on the lawsuit asserting violations of the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Federal Aid Highway Act.

Residents speak at Saturday's INC forum. Photo: David Sachs
Residents speak at Saturday’s INC forum. Photo: David Sachs

The INC vote followed a forum in which civil and structural engineers joined Gelfuso to explain the disastrous effects of widening a highway through an urban center and update the public on grassroots resistance efforts.

Two empty chairs sat on the stage reserved for reps from CDOT and the city.

INC invited reps from Hickenlooper’s road agency and the Hancock administration, but neither showed. CDOT wouldn’t dispatch its communications team to the forum because the topic was “hedging too closely to the litigation,” INC President JJ Niemann told Streetsblog in an interview after the forum. Hancock’s chief of staff offered to send a rep with a 25-minute presentation, Niemmann said, but that did not fit INC’s open-dialogue format.

While CDOT did not participate in Saturday’s conversation, the agency tried fear-mongering to push its agenda online. In a Sunday Facebook post, CDOT cited the hurricanes in Florida and Texas to justify widening a highway for “civil defense and emergency evacuation” purposes.

In the post, CDOT called opponents of I-70 — which now officially includes Denver’s largest neighborhood organization — a “small vocal group.”

Denver’s neighborhood organizations are historically influential. For instance, a small group of organized homeowners donning the official neighborhood organization tag successfully lobbied the City Council earlier this year to require developers to build more parking — even if it means fewer homes and higher home prices.

Will city and state elected officials listen to Denverites, or engage in selective hearing?