Friday, April 11, 2014

Climate Change and I-70

from Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega's April newsletter.

Millennials want a sustainable environment and they are willing to create new paradigm shift in how they live to achieve it. In fact, recent research shows a decline in these young professionals obtaining a drivers license or owning a car; they utilize public transportation and new transportation services that are accessed through on-line applications. They don't own a home and gravitate to creative industries. They get it! I have begun to see people from my generation also using some of these new transportation options. "If the pattern persists - and many sociologists believe it will - it will have beneficial implications for carbon emissions and the environment, since transportation is the second largest source of America's emissions, just behind power plants," according to a New York Times analysis. Science has confirmed that climate change is largely a result of human behavior as reiterated in this recent article.

Climate change is one of the many reasons we need to scrutinize the number of lanes proposed for the I-70 East highway project. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will issue the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for replacing the I-70 East corridor in July. A 45-day comment period and very likely, a public hearing will follow. After the comment period CDOT will complete the EIS and submit it to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA will issue a Record of Decision approving or rejecting the project. I strongly encourage the residents along the I-70 corridor, especially those in neighborhoods that are most directly affected, to thoroughly review the details of the EIS and submit their input!

The EIS provides an opportunity to re-evaluate transportation assumptions. CDOT Director Don Hunt and his team have worked hard over the past ten years to develop a plan for I-70 that meets the need to move cars and trucks. Through their efforts a proposal to widen the highway, remove the current viaduct, move the highway below ground and cover a portion of the roadway has been developed. The "Partially Lowered Covered" (PCL) concept will increase the footprint of this transportation corridor from 117 feet to 250 feet. Is this wise?

Do we need to encroach this far into existing neighborhoods? The cover or lid may reduce health impacts to the residents caused by moving the highway closer to homes and schools. But the evidence is strong that the further a highway is from homes and schools, the better. I question the proposed width of this corridor in an urban area. When you include lanes, managed (toll) lanes, shoulder lanes and ramps the highway will be 16 lanes wide. In addition, CDOT plans to build two, two-lane services roads. One on each side of the highway. The overall width of the project will be the equivalent of 20 lanes!

The FasTrack East line will open in 2016. The line will efficiently move people along the "Corridor of Opportunity" from downtown to DIA. If ridership is as successful as on existing corridors, there will be less demand for highway lanes.

Do we need four "toll/managed lanes" down the center of I-70 from Brighton Blvd to Tower Road? How will traffic from the "toll/managed" lanes merge into other lanes once it gets to Brighton Blvd? Recent articles raise questions about the use of these lanes. Some communities are finding motorists unwilling to pay for access. The lanes are not as heavily utilized and therefore have not been generating the projected revenues. We know that the devil is always in the details, which we won't see until July 2014.

I understand this reconstruction has to meet transportation needs for the next 50 plus years, but let's not just settle for the mentality that if we build it, they will come! We should all be good stewards of the environment and our neighborhoods. We need to work collectively to leave future generation's a sustainable environment. We need to build a roadway of the future that minimizes negative impacts on neighborhoods and the environment. Let's leave the old thinking that requires we build the roadway to the maximum width behind. Let's use our knowledge and vision to challenge old assumptions and avoid contributing to the environmental and social degradation of these neighborhoods and our city.


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