Advocates Request Injunction Against CDOT’s I-70 Boondoggle

In court, highway opponents presented a government memo that shows CDOT knew a drainage project would be needed to protect the sunken highway from flooding, but didn't want to include that work in its environmental analysis.

Foto: Jeffrey Beal/Flickr
Foto: Jeffrey Beal/Flickr

The Colorado Department of Transportation should not be allowed to widen I-70 before the courts have ruled on the project, say advocates fighting the highway expansion, and they have a new piece of evidence to bolster their legal case.

CDOT wants to start digging a wider I-70 freeway through north Denver neighborhoods early next year, but there’s still a pending court case arguing that the Federal Highway Administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it approved the project. The crux of the claim against the project is that the feds improperly approved a CDOT environmental impact analysis that failed to include a drainage project tied to the highway widening.

On Friday, attorney Aaron Goldhamer requested an injunction against the highway widening in federal court on behalf of developer Kyle Zeppelin and other residents fighting the project. The highway opponents have acquired an internal memo from Denver Public Works that they think is strong enough to demonstrate that their case should get a full hearing before CDOT is allowed to start construction.

In seeking an injunction in the U.S. District Court for Colorado, Goldhamer cited the 2014 “Montclair Creek Drainage Feasibility Evaluation” [PDF], a Denver Public Works report marked for internal use only that sparked the creation of the “Platte to Park Hill” drainage plan under scrutiny today.

There are two main takeaways from the memo: CDOT needs drainage work done to protect the sunken highway from flooding, and CDOT did not want to include drainage work in its environmental impact analysis.

“The court might not get to the merits of the case until after CDOT started digging,” Goldhamer said. “We’re saying, ‘Look, we’ve got some good arguments here. Here’s a little peek at the argument, and you should prevent them from going forward based on this preliminary showing.'”

CDOT and city officials have argued that the flood protection project is separate from the highway expansion project, even though the sunken I-70 ditch will affect the city’s drainage work, and the Hancock administration and CDOT reached an agreement to pay for both projects together.

The memo Goldhamer submitted includes compelling evidence that the two projects are inseparable. “As part of the [I-70] project, CDOT proposes to build a 100-year storm pipe system to protect this depressed section of highway from stormwater flows,” the document states.

Another passage relays why the agency avoided changing its environmental impact statement to include drainage work:

CDOT’s I-70 Partially Covered Lowering (PCL) Project Manager, Keith Stefanik has confirmed from his management team that CDOT cannot include any of the Montclair Creek open channel projects in their design/build contract for the I-70 PCL project. To amend their Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to include an open channel option is such a large change in scope that they would have to start their NEPA EIS process essentially all over again. It has taken them two years to get to the point of where they are ready to submit their supplemental package, and they are unwilling to jeopardize their progress on the EIS for the I-70 PCL.

The district court is expected to rule on the injunction request by the end of the year.

Other legal challenges to CDOT’s urban highway expansion project remain active as well. And in addition to litigation, Denver’s largest community group recently called on Governor John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael Hancock to halt the project.

This article was updated to clarify the the intent of the Montclair Creek drainage document.

  • TakeFive

    This one still seems far-fetched to me. They’re claiming that the IGA or cooperative agreement between CDOT and City of Denver to save taxpayers money is actually a nefarious conspiracy to save taxpayer’s money. Oh my, how disgusting.

    CDOT, for its part obviously had to proceed as if that agreement didn’t exist since they ultimately had no control over what Denver decided, no way of knowing in advance whether it would ever be adopted. It was a totally separate legal and environmental issue from the Central 70 project.

    Who knows… perhaps Aaron Goldhamer, Esq. will convince the court that it’s not fair to save taxpayers money and CDOT will have to proceed as originally planned.

    • The Park Hill drainage issue predates this I-70 controversy by several decades and will still exist even if Kyle Zeppelin is successful at blocking the I-70 expansion, which I see as quite doubtful at this point. Zeppelin certainly seems to have lots of money to throw around though.

      Perhaps it is time for those of us who would be negatively impacted by I-70 not being widened to seek funding to become a legal thorn in his side, after all, there is far more impact to this question than just Zeppelin’s development interests and his choice of victim, the Elyria / Swansea residents.

      You watch, if Zeppelin wins he himself will run Elyria and Swansea residents right out of town when he gentrifies their neighborhoods.

  • fpfrainaguirre

    Much cheaper drainage solutions for NE Denver have been offered by Adrian Brown.His solutions would benefit a much larger area than what is being offered right now. Obstructing the natural flow of ground water by digging a 40 ft. deep “ditch” aka: Central I-70 will cut off water that has gone to Adams county. Won’t the folks in Adams county be happy to know that they have been screwed again by Denver! But then they won’t know this until the damage is done! Too bad Adams county that the powers that be in Denver are so uneducated about how to take care of nature! After all, being in touch with nature might take away some of the dinero that is put in their pockets!

    • I have a better idea. Instead of wasting so much money putting I-70 underground and creating a park, why not just build it ground level for half the cost? Put a few pedestrian bridges over it so people can get across the freeway safely.

      Either that or widen both I-270/I-76 and I-70 to 8 lanes each and ask through truck traffic to take I-270/I-76. The problem there is the extra impact on all the families living along I-270/I-76 whom apparently Kyle Zeppelin couldn’t care less about.

      • Shane

        There is a large push to get highways that cut through neighborhoods to go underground. It may cost more to do this but some believe that there is a large social benefit to reuniting neighborhoods. I’ve heard this argument plenty of times, especially from people that were there before the highway was constructed. If you dig around you can find plenty of case studies of putting highways underground around the US.

        • In my hometown they built the Lodge Freeway (US 10) below ground in a concrete ditch back in the 1960s. All the surface streets cross the Lodge at ground level so there is no loss of sight distance. Several other freeways in Detroit are also below grade level but not in a 90-degree ditch like the Lodge is.

          Then when I was in Santiago, Chile for a conference on urban sustainability in 2012, they have built several long tunnels for their freeways including one that runs under a river for 7 Km in their downtown area, keeping the freeway noise, its unattractive issue,, and even freeway vehicle pollution out of the downtown area by blowing the exhaust to either end into industrial neighborhoods.

          Santiago has also built a 10 Km freeway tunnel under an upscale neighborhood on the east side of the city on the edge of the Andes foothills, and another tunnel of 4 Km length that penetrates the big hill just north of downtown that connects to the northern suburbs there.

          Imagine putting I-25 in a double-deck tunnel under the South Platte River in downtown Denver say from Santa Fe (US 85) all the way up to I-70 or further, which would greatly increase the value of property there and create a developable strip of about 150 feet in width by several miles in length in a very desirable city neighborhood

    • Shane

      There is no longer a “natural flow of ground water” in the Denver area. The “natural flow” is affected as soon as any roadway, building, house, ect. with associated drainage structures are developed. That is, even if there is groundwater in the area. Groundwater may be much deeper than 40 feet and therefore much harder to impact.

      I believe this part of the article is highlighting that there will be a need to protect the highway from surface water from the underground portion of the highway. This protection system was not included in the EIS. If it found that constructing a portion of I-70 underground, there are plenty of protection systems which can be designed to not greatly impact groundwater.