The Colorado Dept. of Transportation, partnering with the Federal Highway Administration, says it will rework the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that outlines future improvements to the Interstate 70 East Corridor from Brighton Boulevard to Tower Road in Denver.
After failing to gain support for an earlier proposed solution to build a larger viaduct in the same area, CDOT presented a new alternative to the public in May. It would replace the elevated viaduct portion of I-70 with a lowered highway that includes a partial cover, or deck, to better address public concerns about neighborhood connectivity and quality. The catch: the lowered-highway alternative could cost at least $900 million, and $150 million more than the elevated-highway option.
The new alternative emerged after CDOT and FHWA spent several months reviewing previously considered alternatives. More than 400 people attended two public neighborhood meetings in late May to learn about the new alternative and comment on whether it is preferable to an existing option to rebuild the elevated viaduct in essentially the same location.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard a lot of support for the new alternative, so we are going to proceed with the engineering, analysis and planning necessary to turn this into a viable alternative for consideration in the Environmental Impact Statement,” says CDOT Executive Director Don Hunt. “We believe taking down the viaduct and lowering the highway is worth the extra expense and we are committed to moving this alternative forward.”
First started in 2003, the I-70 East Corridor EIS project includes the viaduct between Brighton Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard while the project limits extend to Tower Road. The 48-year-old viaduct is deteriorating and must be replaced to maintain public safety and meet today’s traffic demands. A 2008 draft EIS proposed either replacing the viaduct, causing a north or south shift of the structure into adjoining neighborhoods, or realigning the highway along I-270 and through the Elyria neighborhood.
Controversy around the viaduct alternatives presented in the EIS, together with comments made by the public, led CDOT to introduce a new compromise alternative more responsive to public input. CDOT will now be redrafting the EIS to include the new lowered highway alternative. The alternative includes the nearly two-blocks long deck over the highway that could serve as a park, open green space or something else to be determined later. CDOT says it will work with the community in the coming months to shape the location of the deck and its possible uses.
Public input also will be requested on other design elements of the new alternative as well as on options to mitigate the project’s impact on the surrounding community, including business and residential relocations, historic properties, connectivity and the neighborhood's Swansea Elementary School.
As CDOT proceeds with analyzing this alternative, plans for rebuilding the elevated viaduct will also be carried forward through this next phase. CDOT did receive public comment that supported the original alternative as well. CDOT will work with the community to identify the impacts and benefits of these two alternatives and collect additional public input on both alternatives in the next phase of the EIS.
The City and County of Denver, which has been involved in the project from the beginning, also wants to play an important role in shaping the final alternative.
“I want to recognize all the members of our community and our city team who have been working hand-in-hand with CDOT for many years on this critical corridor,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock in a statement to the community. “I want to thank CDOT for its willingness to take stakeholder input to heart and consider this alternative. I encourage the community to continue engaging with CDOT and the city as we work to find the right balance for the surrounding neighborhood while positively transforming this well-travelled portion of I-70.”
CDOT estimates the next phase of the environmental process will last approximately two years, a process that will include detailed design, rewriting the draft EIS, and additional public meetings and opportunities for public comment.