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CDOT nixes plan to expand parts of I-25 in downtown Denver, shifts focus to transit

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Posted at 6:10 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 20:45:43-04

DENVER — A Colorado transportation commission has decided to switch gears on plans to expand parts of I-25 in downtown Denver.

The proposal was part of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 10-year priority plan. It would have added a fifth lane to I-25 from about Speer Boulevard to Santa Fe Drive, which would have been an express tollway.

The goal was to alleviate traffic in the area, but it would have cost an estimated $1.5 billion to complete.

After receiving feedback from the public and local governments in the area, the commission decided to nix the expansion plan and instead dedicate another $100 million to transit options in the area and improving safety.

“It's important that we're investing in ways that allow those people to walk, bike — connected things without always having to drive,” said Danny Katz, executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG).

Another reason the highway expansion proposal won’t move forward — major transportation legislation that passed last year.

Part of Colorado Senate Bill 21-260 called for the state to take into account greenhouse gas emissions with every project it approves. This project would have resulted in more cars passing through the area, meaning more greenhouse gas emissions, making it difficult for the state to reach its climate goals moving forward.

Katz is excited to see CDOT shift slightly away from such a heavy emphasis on constructing more roadways and instead focusing on transit as a way of relieving congestion.

“When you spend billions of dollars to widen highways, inevitably, within a few years, more cars come, and with those cars comes more pollution. [It] doesn't actually solve the problem,” Katz said.

Instead of expanding the highway, the new focus will be on fixing bridges in the area, improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians and expanding bus and train options. In particular, Katz says there are some areas of land that could be used to make trains run more efficiently through downtown.

“As the light rail is coming up, it gets to a choke point right around I-25 and Broadway. And CDOT has some land there that could either be used for some more highway space, or it could be used to help free up some space so we can move more trains,” Katz said.

He’s hopeful that this could be part of the new transit-focused plan.

CDOT nixes plan to expand parts of I-25 in downtown Denver, shifts focus to transit

Residents in nearby neighborhoods are also celebrating the change, saying it will mean less pollution.

“We have about 265% over the state average rate of asthma. So that really is a big concern — pollution and the ozone problems that are created from increased traffic, you know, has really impacted our residents,” said Jeanne Granville, president of the Sun Valley Community Coalition, a local neighborhood organization.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) data, from 2013 to 2017, Valverde and Sun Valley had the highest rates of asthma among residents in the entire state.

Granville worried that adding more lanes of traffic would have resulted in even more pollution and health problems for her neighbors, many of whom are low or moderate income and live in affordable housing.

“While it won't solve our health issues that our residents have, that will certainly help not make them worse,” she said.

Granville is excited to see more transit infrastructure in the plans for the area, and says this will become a coveted neighborhood to live in when the work is complete.

Katz, meanwhile, is applauding CDOT’s shift and says there could be potential for more changes moving forward.

“Certainly in that 10-year plan, there are other projects that should get the same scrutiny that I-25 did. For right now, we're really excited to see this this sea change,” he said.

In a statement, CDOT said, "Our decisions regarding Central 25 and C-470 were based on input we received from local communities and concerned citizens, which was expressed to us and the Denver Regional Council of Governments. CDOT sets its priorities based on the input of Coloradans across the state, and nowhere is this reflected more than in our 10-Year Plan.”

The statement goes on to say that the 10-year plan sets a priority list for transportation projects that are compiled through the most expansive and inclusive outreach ever undertaken by the department.