Feds launch civil rights probe into I-70 project
CDOT planning will go on during the investigation.
Federal transportation officials have signaled that they will initiate an investigation in response to a civil rights complaint filed by Denver community groups that oppose the state’s controversial $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 70.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that filed the complaint, both confirmed Tuesday that they have been notified of the filing’s acceptance by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
The notification included plans to initiate an investigation. An investigator may visit Denver next week to begin interviews and site visits, said Heidi McIntosh, the Earthjustice attorney.
Federal officials’ decision to investigate the complaint, which is based on the project’s effects on a majority-Latino part of Denver, was expected. The federal transportation agency’s rules require it to accept and investigate a civil rights complaint related to a federally funded project if the request meets certain criteria.
Although that probe could last six months or more, a CDOT spokeswoman said planning for the I-70 expansion will continue uninterrupted.
“We’ll be responsive to whatever needs or questions they have,” project spokeswoman Rebecca White said.
After CDOT recently delayed its timeline by several months, current plans call for construction to get underway in 2018. CDOT hasn’t yet received final federal approval or selected a project team to build the first phase of the project.
But the prospect of the investigation has electrified project opponents in Elyria-Swansea and Globeville. Last Thursday, dozens of people turned out to a community town hall to hear about recent momentum on that and other legal fronts.
“We appreciate Secretary (Anthony) Foxx’s acknowledgment of the harm that urban highways inflict on minority communities,” Candi CdeBaca, the founder of Cross Community Coalition, in an e-mail Tuesday. “The I-70 expansion proposal is a clear example of this harm — but it’s also an opportunity to work toward justice.”