Hickenlooper Insists That Widening I-70 Is Good for Denver’s Health and Air Quality

Foto: David Sachs
Foto: David Sachs

Governor John Hickenlooper won’t admit that widening I-70 through Elyria Swansea is a mistake that will clog Denver streets with more traffic and spew more particulate pollution into the air. In fact, he insists that the project will be great for public health.

At a press event for his electric vehicle plan in downtown Denver today, Hickenlooper defended the I-70 widening and other highway expansions prioritized by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Expanding I-70 requires digging up contaminated soil from a Superfund site in the country’s most polluted ZIP code. But Hickenlooper stuck to his claims that adding more car lanes will be good for our air quality and our health.

“When that traffic is stopped there, all those tractor trailers, and you’ve got eight lanes of traffic stopped in both directions, where you’ve got pollution is right in that neighborhood,” Hickenlooper said, referring to the north Denver neighborhoods bisected by I-70. “Right now you’re sitting there idling and it’s not only wasting people’s time and some real frustration to their lives, but it’s also polluting.”

Hickenlooper knows that’s not how road widenings play out in practice. He learned years ago that adding car lanes doesn’t fix traffic — it just attracts more cars after an initial respite. It happened on I-25, and now CDOT is planning to widen that freeway again.

What Hickenlooper is asking us to believe is that 10 lanes of stalled traffic in north Denver will be better for our air than the six (not eight) that exist now.

The north Denver residents who live with alarming rates of respiratory problems aren’t buying it. Along with Denver’s largest neighborhood organization, they have demanded an end to the I-70 project.

Hickenlooper held the press event to tout investments in electric car infrastructure. Asked how he can square his support for environmental sustainability with his commitment to widening highways without doing much for transit, the governor pointed to FasTracks, the rail funding bill he helped get through the legislature as mayor of Denver. Fourteen years ago.

Hickenlooper also mentioned the “transformational” bike lane on Broadway, a project run by Denver Public Works — not CDOT — which is currently just a half-mile long. He also referred to bike trails throughout the state.

Finally, the governor said Colorado is “gonna become more efficient in how we use roadways” with automated vehicles. If Hickenlooper really believes that, however, it also negates the rationale for wider roads. “And we’ll do more transit, I promise,” he said.

CDOT is Hickenlooper’s agency. He holds the purse strings and dictates the priorities of the state’s transportation spending. The bottom line is that while CDOT throws a bone to transit and biking here and there, it still operates like a 1950s roads agency. Just take a look at what it wants to build [PDF], or listen to the governor himself.