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.

  • TakeFive

    Your assumptions and generalizations largely fail due to any sense of context. Phoenix, for example, has had the equivalent of what Central 70 will be for over 25 years and traffic still moves through (even the deck park/tunnel) reasonably well. Ofc during rush hour it gets more congested. But the I-10 in Phoenix is more like I-25 in Denver for commuting. But since I-10 moves from west to east, it too is critical for moving goods and services.

    Denver has little density on the west side along I-70, say west of Wadsworth. The busy business part of I-70 is between I-25 and I-225. Out to Pena Blvd to get to DIA is still busy ofc. Beyond that I-70 doesn’t bear that heavy of a traffic load.

    I-70 because it travels from west to east is also a critical corridor for moving goods and services. For many, many decades the lion’s share of warehouses has located along I-70; it’s gravitated to the east from downtown but it’s the corridor for transporting goods and services. The eastern or Central 70 segment is the busiest commercial corridor in Denver. It’s vital to the economies of the city, the metro, the region and state.

    Over the years as more and more goods are imported the greatest share is unloaded in Los Angeles. The biggest portion of goods are actually transported along I-10 and by Union Pacific railroads also in Arizona. But there’s still plenty of goods that need to be moved along all of the west to east highways. I-70 is one of those critical west to east corridors.

    • Bernard Finucane

      Long distance transport is better off on trains. It certainly doesn’t belong on commuter corridors.

      • TakeFive

        LOL, trains don’t go everywhere; they have very limited routes. I-70 as I pointed out is a key freight and commercial corridor that commuters are welcome to use. We don’t discriminate out west.

    • You don’t seem understand what causes the congestion–Suburban Sprawl.
      We interviewed then Mayor Hickenlooper in 2005, and also his chief planner Peter Park; the understood then what we understand now. Lane widening induces congestion. Phoenix is your answer to Denver’s problem? — Give us a Break.

      • TakeFive

        Not in the slightest did I suggest Denver should imitate Phoenix’s Best in Class freeway system. My reference was to one specific segment of one specific major corridor. The two metros are very different from each other and each needs to decide what is best for themselves.

        I do understand “inducement.” Did you ever stop to think that when they add capacity to a freeway they don’t just build new lanes to sit there looking pretty. Ofc they attract more traffic; that’s the whole purpose; it even lessons the burden on nearby arterial streets. That’s a good thing.

        Anybody that has a heartbeat and knows Denver is very aware of the ‘booming’ growth of the last half-dozen years. Are you expecting to cram everybody into unaffordable downtown Denver? Some people prefer and need ungentrified neighborhoods.

        Lastly, if you wish to offer up a video, why not pick one that’s fun and has some flair?

  • Bill

    Clearly we should reduce all roads to one lane since the author is a Civil and Traffic Engineer who knows that narrow roads make for less traffic (somehow).