Metro-area faith leaders say a $1.8 billion plan to widen a portion of Interstate 70 in northeast Denver should be scuttled because it is a public health threat and will break up low-income families in the area.
A group of faith organizations, led by members of the Iliff School of Theology, outlined their concerns with the I-70 proposal in an October letter to Don Hunt, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The letter is now on a Change.org petition. The faith group hopes that CDOT will either drop its I-70 plan or alter it to better suit the homes and businesses in the Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods.
“We seek a solution that demonstrably improves the health and wellness of residents beyond conditions that exist today — that is, a solution that results in measurably better health conditions for residents, school children, workers and visitors to these neighborhoods,” the letter says.
The letter states that a City of Denver Health Impact Assessment showed that because of pollution, residents already living within 500 feet of the highway face asthma levels over 40 percent, compared to 28 percent in other parts of the city.
That will only get worse when the highway is widened, causing respiratory problems and other chronic diseases, the leaders say.
“Widening I-70 will result in expanding the zone of serious air quality and health impacts further into these neighborhoods,” the letter said.
CDOT’s plan calls for destroying I-70’s decaying, 50-year-old viaduct between Brighton and Colorado boulevards and to place the highway below grade. CDOT wants to add two toll lanes in each direction between I-25 and Tower Road and put a nearly four-acre, landscaped cover over the highway by Swansea Elementary.
Plans to improve I-70 have been discussed and studied for nearly 10 years and CDOT studied about 90 proposals before settling on the so-called “Partial Cover Lowered Alternative.”
Widening the highway, and adding toll lanes, will accommodate rapid growth in the northeast Denver area while the four-acre cover will reunited the Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods, CDOT says. Several local groups and governments also back CDOT’s plan but they also voice concerns about the environmental problems that may follow.
Critics say the CDOT plan will be an environmental disaster and force dozens of families out of their neighborhoods.
Denver City Auditor Dennis Gallagher calls it a “boondoggle.”
CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said the agency is well aware of the concerns laid out by the faith leaders. “We will be working very closely with the community and local officials to make sure all the proper mitigation will be put in place,” Ford said.
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/montewhaley