I-70 ex­pan­sion plan: waste­ful or thought­ful

Group blasts CDOT’s fo­cus on high­way ex­pan­sion

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Monte Wha­ley

A $1.2 bil­lion pro­posal to widen and toll parts of In­ter­state 70 through north­east Den­ver is be­ing called one of the coun­try’s most waste­ful high­way projects by a na­tional pub­lic in­ter­est group.

But state plan­ners for I-70 say their de­signs for the high­way will im­prove lo­cal neigh­bor­hoods, cut con­ges­tion and pro­vide wel­come al­ter­na­tives for mo­torists. They said the pro­ject is a 100-year in­vest­ment in the cor­ri­dor.

“We will have an ex­press lane to en­cour­age car pool­ing, a com­muter rail line will soon be open­ing nearby, ... th­ese are the types of projects we want to see de­vel­oped,” said Re­becca White, spokes­woman for the east I-70 pro­ject. “We are go­ing to do this in a very thought­ful way.”

Still, a re­port by the Colorado Pub­lic In­ter­est Re­search Group, or CoPIRG — un­veiled un­der the shadow of the I-70 viaduct near Swansea El­e­men­tary School — says the I-70 pro­posal will burn up at least $58 mil­lion in tax­payer dol­lars. That’s fund­ing that could go to­ward in­vest­ing in other forms of trans­porta­tion, like a com­muter bus ser­vice or in pro­grams to dis­cour­age driv­ing, said Danny Katz, di­rec­tor of the CoPIRG Foun­da­tion.

CoPIRG lumps the I-70 pro­posal with 11 na­tional high­way projects that will waste at least $24 bil­lion in tax dol­lars. The re­port says the projects are “wrongly pri­or­i­tiz­ing ex­pan­sion over re­pair of ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture” and are based on poor pro­jec­tions of fu­ture needs.

“While re­plac­ing a crum­bling viaduct that needs to be ad­dressed, Colorado pro­poses wast­ing mil­lions of dol­lars widen­ing the road and in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion in the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity,” the re­port says.

At a news con­fer­ence Tues­day near Swansea El­e­men­tary, which is next to the I-70 ex­pan­sion area, Katz said the viaduct is a “dirty mess” but added that ex­pand­ing the high­way to 10 lanes is not needed.

“We need to be spend­ing our lim­ited trans­porta­tion dol­lars on re­pair­ing and main­tain­ing our cur­rent roads and bridges and in­vest­ing in trans­porta­tion so­lu­tions that re­duce the need for costly and dis­rup­tive high­way ex­pan­sion projects,” Katz said.

He said re­search shows that adding more lanes on high­ways does not solve con­ges­tion, but rather creates more traf­fic in which more driv­ers spend more time be­hind the wheel.

CDOT, how­ever, says its plan re­makes a badly worn high­way while also adding al­ter­na­tives like toll lanes. They will en­cour­age mo­torists to get off the gen­eral pur­pose lanes and re­lieve con­ges­tion. The agency says the sec­tion of I-70 is congested up to 10 hours a day and car­ries up to 220,000 ve­hi­cles daily.

“I-70 can’t han­dle the traf­fic now, and we are look­ing at a 40 to 50 per­cent growth over the next few years,” said White. “If we do noth­ing, you can ex­pect it to take 65 min­utes to travel 12 miles on the high­way.”

CDOT wants to re­move the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing 50-year-old viaduct on I-70 be­tween Brighton Boule­vard and Colorado Boule­vard, low­er­ing the high­way below grade and adding two tolled ex­press lanes in each di­rec­tion.

The viaduct would be re­placed with a 4-acre green cover near the el­e­men­tary school. This will re­unite the Swansea

and Elyria neigh­bor­hoods.

The plan has also gar­nered sup­port from var­i­ous groups in­clud­ing the Den­ver Cham­ber of Com­merce, Na­tional Western Stock Show, Union Pa­cific Rail­road and the Elyr­i­aSwansea Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion.

A study of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of the plan can now be re­viewed this month and will be the sub­ject of three pub­lic hear­ings in Fe­bru­ary.

CoPIRG is part of a na­tional con­sumer re­search group that is funded by do­na­tions and with a mis­sion of “stand­ing up to pow­er­ful in­ter­ests.” CoPIRG emerged in the 1970s on col­lege cam­puses and is con­sid­ered by many to be a left-lean­ing watch­dog group.

Thad Tecza, a vo­cal critic of the I-70 plan, says it’s un­likely the CoPIRG re­port will do much to sway CDOT from can­cel­ing or al­ter­ing its plan, which he says is plagued by en­vi­ron­men­tal and fis­cal prob­lems.

“There used to be a song about Viet­nam that said we were slowly but surely be­ing sucked into the big muddy, and I think that is what is hap­pen­ing here,” said Tecza. “But hope springs eter­nal that this will be stopped.”

“There used to be a song about Viet­nam that said we were slowly but surely be­ing sucked into the big muddy, and I think that is what is hap­pen­ing here.”

Thad Tecza, critic of I-70 plan

A truck heads west on In­ter­state 70 where a pro­posed high­way widen­ing could af­fect busi­nesses below, such as this MetroPCS store on Josephine Street. CoPIRG says that the pro­posed widen­ing will make the na­tional list of waste­ful high­way projects. Kathryn Scott Osler, The Den­ver Post

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