Feds launch civil rights probe into I-70 project

CDOT plan­ning will go on dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jon Mur­ray

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.”

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