Commentary: Before Changing I-25 in Denver, Is CDOT Really Listening?

I-25 viewed from the 16th Street pedestrian bridge. Photo: Andy Bosselman
I-25 viewed from the 16th Street pedestrian bridge. Photo: Andy Bosselman

At an open house last night, officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation showed off ideas to fix a dangerous, congested stretch of Interstate 25 that passes through Central Denver. Despite the agency’s recent announcement of a statewide “listening tour,” the highway agency has already ruled out the most progressive concept it considered: Tearing down the highway and replacing it with an urban boulevard.

“Most of these [urban] highways are reaching the end of their lifespan,” said Ben Crowther a transportation fellow with the Congress for New Urbanism in a phone interview. His organization has called for the removal of I-70 in Denver and counts 15 cities in North America that have taken out or committed to removing urban freeways. “This is the opportunity when communities get to make a choice and can advocate for a different solution than a highway.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 2.25.48 PMBut the opportunity to remove I-25 in Central Denver appears to have dried up and CDOT officials seem to never have taken the idea seriously.

In the agency’s 165-page I-25 Central Denver study and other documents, illustrations help people visualize how highway lanes could be widened, exotic “braided intersections” could be installed and what a multi-level freeway might look like. But the documents show no illustrations of how the highway removal option might look and in the three public meetings held before last night’s open house, there is not one agenda item that specifically made time to talk about it.

CDOT’s highway removal option called, “Reroute / Urban Boulevard,” was described in a slide from a December presentation.

“This alternative would include the rerouting of regional traffic around the urban core of the city and replacement of the existing I-25 with an urban boulevard,” it reads. “Regional traffic would be rerouted east using I-76, I-70, and I-225. A signalized urban boulevard would be created from approximately 20th Street to US 85/Santa Fe Drive that connects to the existing surface grid.”

The community organization Unite North Metro Denver proposed an alternative to I-70: A tree-lined boulevard, that would "re-establish the community grid, free up land for development and raise property values," according to CNU.
The community organization Unite North Metro Denver proposed an alternative to I-70: A tree-lined boulevard, that would “re-establish the community grid, free up land for development and raise property values,” according to CNU.

If CDOT created renderings depicting the highway removal option and discussed it more seriously, the idea would have certainly generated community interest. Ahead of the I-70 expansion currently underway in the Denver neighborhoods Globeville, Elyria and Swansea, the community group Unite North Metro Denver proposed an alternative to the highway. They created an illustration (pictured) that offers a powerful visualization of how a tree-lined boulevard would “re-establish the community grid, free up land for development, and raise property values,” according to CNU. But despite CDOT’s listening tour, the state highway agency doesn’t seem willing to hear much beyond the idea building more highways.

“We’re studying traffic modeling,” said Steve Sherman an engineer and project manager for the study. “We’re trying to support the needs of everyone commuting through and within the area.”

But what about the people who live and work around the area?

If CDOT officials truly want to listen to the needs Coloradans, they should examine their bias toward building urban highways, even when it hurts the surrounding communities. They should also have real conversations about how removing urban freeways could correct the devastation the agency caused when it first put them up.

People gather around folding tables to look at options to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements along the I-25 in Central Denver. Photo: Andy Bosselman
People gather around folding tables to look at options to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements along the I-25 in Central Denver. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Building I-25 and I-70 in Denver required demolishing homes and tearing apart neighborhoods. It left people in those communities with decreased property values, noise pollution, dirty air and connecting streets that are some of the most deadly in the city.

“No one wants to live by a highway,” said Crowther.  

It’s possible to undo these past deeds — and the option should be put back into the study.


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  • Ben Schumacher

    The questions in their online survey for this project also seemed to imply that they’ve already made up their mind on what they’re doing. I got the impression they just wanted input on small tweaks to it, even though the introduction implied that responses could reshape the freeway completely.

  • TakeFive

    • Alton Henson

      What the hell does this have to do with I 25? Can this post be taken down please?

  • Brian Jeffrey

    The recent meeting was to show interest in community engagement. Many of the proposed options, like a double-deck freeway aren’t really part of their intentions. While this meeting was for show, the July meeting will be the one where actual intentions are disclosed. As much as we all, I think, would like to believe that CDOT is thinking outside the box, they’re really on the usual path of freeway expansion as evidenced by their dismissal of the urban boulevard. I-25 expansion is just another incarnation of I-70.

  • Jay Kay

    Strictly looking at that strip of I-25 from an engineering standpoint, one of the issues that CDOT is dealing with is not only daily commuting congestion, but also what to do with event congestion. Like what to do with 76,000 people that show up for a Broncos game. Unfortunately, the two might be at odds with each other.

    • mckillio

      They shouldn’t be worried about dealing with something that’s used a dozen times a year.

    • Alton Henson

      People heading to Mile High should be thinking Light Rail and NOT highways/parking. If they’re selfish enough to drive to a game, they should be selfish enough to sit in damn traffic. And not complain about it. There’s a station at the stadium. No brainer.

      • TakeFive

        The Mile High Stadium Station is on the east side of I-25, not at the stadium. Many fans prefer riding one of the 22 Bronco Ride bus routes or the Federal Shuttle.

  • Chris

    We need to keep pushing on them and come in force to the July meeting to prevent a really bad decision from being made. Even if the boulevard option is off the table, let’s prevent further expansion. Some of the CDOT reps at the event seemed intrigued by the idea of converting existing lanes into managed toll lanes to keep traffic flowing and investing those revenues into low income transit subsidies so lower income commuters aren’t adversely impacted. This would be a huge win as it would prevent expansion and more cars coming in via induced demand just to end up congested anyway, and incentivize commuters to look at better options like transit / carpool to avoid the toll.

    • Trevor

      I work w CDOT, FHWA, and on managed lane/congestion pricing projects. I can say with confidence the biggest barrier to managed lanes are that CDOT is terrified of public backlash and following this past November feels the public would erupt if asked to pay for transportation – either through taxing or a user fee. If anyone wants to support lower cost, more common sense solutions PLEASE GET OUT IN YOUR COMMUNITY AND ADVOCATE.

    • Mile Cargo

      I am glad to see there are others out there who agree that managed toll lanes are not so far-fetched an idea for implementing freeway capacity improvements and changing our society for the better in terms of transportation. The tolls generated can help our transportation system in many ways, and for every class of people by funding freeway capacity improvement projects, provide for local transit options (bus), and more! In fact, we should be as cutting edge as possible while being morally and ethically responsible to our communities, AND OUR CHILDREN’S future communities. Let’s not kick the can on to them, but instead we can bear the torch to the end.

      Oh, what a CRUCIAL component of our society is our transportation infrastructure funding and massively! Evey minute spent in delays on both our state and local infrastructure is another minute that is missed at home with our families, doing the things we want to do to change the world for the better. Not only that, but the more funding that goes to transportation here will enable us to more carefully study plans and gain massive feedback from the local communities. And I do not mean just one group doing all of the talking for a particular mode of transport. I mean that ALL transportation must work uniformly together to intertwine our freeways with bike systems seamlessly. It is true that massive idealism here is needed in the form of massive public support. I just cannot believe that there aren’t more people in the general public and business worlds pushing for major transportation expansion.

      Our fast-growing population is well beyond the point of no return in terms of what high levels of freeway capacity we need now. I-25 is one of the sole arteries that channels lifeblood from and to the Denver Metro Area. Sure, we have the light-rail system spanning many excellent miles as it is. However, there are still millions of people who want to be in their cars so we have to accommodate that with an urgency for LIFE.

      And also improve infrastructure to get first responders to our needy (thank you!), to transport buses of people and consolidate trips into one, to improve bicycle infrastructure safety for ALL LEVELS OF PEOPLE, and to take pride in our infrastructure.

  • TakeFive

    How did Seattle accomplish replacing viaducts with a boulevard of dreams?

    Similar to ‘Central 70’, the Alaskan Way Viaduct needed to replace 2.2 miles of aging viaduct. It wasn’t even an interstate but it was a busy state route that ran through Seattle. Short story is they ultimately decided on a below grade replacement for SR99. Cost estimates were $3.3 billion; state and federal funding committed to $2.8 billion. The project ended up costing ~$4 billion; that was $4 billion for two miles. Alaskan_Way_Viaduct_replacement_tunnel

    CDOT doesn’t have the kind of funding that WSDOT has nor does Denver have the money that Seattle has. CDOT needed creative P3 funding to spend $1.2 billion on 10 miles including a below grade stretch. Pretty sure if CDOT were to win the lottery that the state legislature would want to improve I-70 west to Summit County including additional boring at the Eisenhower tunnel before they spent $4-5 billion on Denver’s Boulevard of Dreams.

    • mckillio

      It would definitely be cheaper to do nothing. I haven’t looked into the costs for these demos/removal of highways, do you know the price difference between them and having to replace the entire section or just expanding it?

      • TakeFive

        Creating a boulevard could be done and could even make sense. It’s logical that a majority of I-25 traffic is going in and out of downtown. But it would take more than just an idealistic vision; it needs a plan.
        1) The metro area would need to OK a 5/10 percent tax for 25 years.
        2) I-225 and I-76 would both need to be 10-lanes PLUS an additional lane for strictly merging on and off the freeway for I-225. This extra lane is important for safety and especially useful during peak traffic. This is typical down here where Loop 101 carries more traffic than the I-25 equivalent.

        Including ROW acquisition I’d ballpark the cost at $3.5 billion. E-470 may also need to be widened but they can fund their own presumably.

        • mckillio

          1) Why?
          2) No they wouldn’t

          Which brings me back to my original question. I know highway removals are cheaper than redoing them e.g. I70 project but I’m not sure if it’s cheaper to replace a highway rather than expand it. Obviously every situation is different and just because a highway might be getting expanded and not rebuilt doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t fold in some other work like repaving or increasing shoulders, on/off ramps etc.

  • Roads_Wide_Open

    let’s be real, unless a sales tax or other funding mechanisms come forth, nothing much will happen. Double decker or blvd. will never happen.

    • mckillio

      Then how are we in the middle of the $2B I-70 expansion?

  • Kevin Withers

    Those developer guys at ‘Congress for New Urbanism’…
    every two years they trot out their “list” of freeways to be removed. Not to be taken seriously, much ado about nothing.

  • Mile Cargo

    Freeway expansion is the only solution that will accommodate the
    fast-growing population of our community. If the freeway isn’t
    expanded, the local roadways will suffer as people will be finding
    alternate routes off of I-25 and thus through city streets. We cannot
    simply shift the burden of traffic needs onto the city streets without
    huge repercussions to those communities.

    • iBikeCommute

      Maybe we should be thoughtful about how and where development occurs so that it doesn’t overwhelm our infrastructure. Or maybe the developers profiteering from tract housing should pay for the highway expansions their development depends on.

      • Mile Cargo

        Thoughtful planning is what is going to save our children and children’s children. It is a must. But we mustn’t obstruct the developers who are simply trying to respond to a need posed to them by the population. People want more housing. People want more retail. That ship has sailed and there’s no going back. Denver is far from a remote, mountain town and to attempt to look the other way and try to go back in time will only waste valuable time. We must press forward, onward and upward.