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Landscaping removed from West Colfax improvement plan amid rising costs

West Colfax
Posted at 8:41 PM, Feb 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-03 00:49:05-05

DENVER — Construction is set to begin next week on improvements to West Colfax Avenue in Denver but without the initially planned trees and landscaping along the newly installed medians.

West Colfax was identified for improvements through Denver’s Vision Zero Initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths in the city. The area is part of Denver’s “high injury network,” referring to the 5% of streets in the city that account for half of its traffic deaths.

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) began engaging with West Colfax community members in 2019, which was intended to include reworked intersections and enhanced crossings, along with the landscaped medians.

“I thought the plans were great,” said Heidi Newhart, who serves on the West Colfax Association of Neighbors. “I love to see safety improvements along our high-injury networks. West Colfax is an underserved community.”

Newhart said excitement has been growing among neighbors in the years since the project was announced, both for the potential improvements in safety and neighborhood beautification. This week, however, Newhart and others noticed new renderings posted to the city’s webpage showing concrete medians without trees and vegetation. The change was confirmed to neighbors in a community meeting Thursday evening.

“Extremely frustrated, dejected, just so despairing,” Newhart said of her feelings upon learning of the change. “We wait for so long to get resources in our neighborhood, and to have the rug pulled out from under us while the construction is starting is just so beyond disappointing.”

Several neighbors told Denver7 the downgrade in plans feels like a confirmation of a perception long held of their neighborhood: that it is underrepresented, undervalued, and therefore underfunded.

“I’ve heard stereotypes over the years about Colfax,” said resident Ellen Thomas. “And if we can get a little bit of lively greenery in here, I think that’s going to help to change the perspective that folks have in this neighborhood.”

Nancy Kuhn, spokesperson for DOTI, told Denver7 the office is stretching dollars as far as it can for the project, but costs have risen since the initial plans were made.

“The DOTI team worked right down to the wire to try to find two to three [million dollars] to cover the cost of landscaping the medians and the infrastructure that’s needed to sustain trees and plantings along the busy corridor,” Kuhn said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we do not have the funding to cover these costs and we let the community know this past week.”

Other improvements, including reworked intersections, crossings, and median refuge islands, will still be installed, Kuhn said. Construction is set to begin this month and is expected to be completed by summer 2025.

Both Newhart and Thomas feel the revitalization has lost a key part of its character without the planned landscaping. They hope ongoing conversations will lead to other breakthroughs.

“A road like Colfax is a major impediment to the quality of life in a neighborhood like West Colfax,” Newhart said. “So having green infrastructure and something that we can be proud of… it’s huge for a community like West Colfax.”

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