Written by Max Pivonka, ESLLC 2015-2016
With over 18,000 people moving to the city and county of Denver in 2015, it’s no wonder the interstates system within the Denver Metro Area has become nearly constantly congested as of late. One of the worst congestion areas in the interstate system is I-70 east of I-25, also known as Central I-70. At the moment the deteriorating 50 year old viaduct is in desperate need of repairs, effectively needing a complete overhaul.
There is currently a $1.8 billion proposal to overhaul this existing six-lane viaduct with a below grade interstate – similar to I-25 in south Denver – that is partially covered, comprised of 10 lanes of which four are HOV lanes, theoretically relieving congestion on the main route to and from Denver International Airport. Since at the present this section is congested up to 10 hours with up to 220,000 vehicles passing through per day and current projections estimate a 40 to 50 percent increase in commuters in the Denver Metro Area in the coming years, something drastic needs to be done.
There is lots of opposition to this proposed project, nationally and locally, many of which are harshly vocalizing their views.
Currently there is an environmental-health lawsuit in progress filed jointly from Denver neighborhood community groups along the I-70 corridor and the Sierra Club against the Environmental Protection Agency “claiming that the agency lowered its pollution standards in order to push forward the controversial expansion of I-70…” The suit contends that that the project should be able to utilize federal funding due to the violation of requirements of the Clean Air Act since particulate from traffic on high pollution days would be above acceptable levels, putting the local communities at greater health risk. A report published in 2014 by the Denver Department of Environmental Health found that “residents in areas adjacent to I-70 experience a 70 percent greater rate of mortality from heart diseases than residents elsewhere in the city.”
Presently, the neighborhoods along the section of the I-70 are the poorest in Denver and least able to voice their views and express influence of the proposed project and are susceptible to the health risks present in living in close proximity to and interstate. There is also a greater societal issue present in that it is unlikely that no other Denver neighborhood would have a project such as this forced upon them and the residents are being exploited.
One of the other issues that has been brought up is that congestion likely wouldn’t decrease. On many other highway widening projects completed in the US the congestion continues. There are just more vehicles on the road due to the fact that when there is more space to drive, more people drive, compounding the problem.
There are proven alternatives to widening highways that decrease congestion that that utilize tax dollars much more effectively. People need to be travelling smarter by utilizing other transportation solutions to decrease the number of vehicles on the road. The recently opened metro line that parallels this section of the I-70 corridor going from Union Station downtown to DIA is a prime example, with the hope of alleviating traffic. Solutions such as this wouldn’t necessitate the incredible cost and the hassle of highway repairs.
While the deteriorating I-70 viaduct does need to be addressed, there are many better ways to go about it that won’t increase environmental impacts, worsen public health, and exacerbate traffic congestion. Denver is a fantastic place to live – as seen with all the people moving here – and it’s important that it continues to be a fantastic place to live.