Executive Director, CoPIRG Foundation
Executive Director, CoPIRG Foundation
DENVER – On Wednesday night, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) gave their final approval to an updated plan that removes a massive highway widening project along I-25 in Denver and reinvests over $100 million in transit and safety improvements. The vote comes a week after the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) approved the same change in the state’s newly adopted 10-year construction plan.
Transportation advocates and neighborhood leaders celebrated the removal of the highway widening proposal along I-25 Central, a 4.5 mile stretch that runs through the heart of Denver, creating a physical barrier between neighborhoods, including Sun Valley and Valverde, which suffer from some of the state’s highest asthma rates — more than 250% above the state average.
“After another summer of drought, extreme heat and unsafe levels of ozone pollution, our region is taking a major step toward a cleaner, safer transportation future. I applaud our region’s leaders for shifting transportation spending away from some highway widening projects and toward healthier, safer ways to get around,” said CoPIRG Foundation Executive Director Danny Katz. “When you add more highway lanes, you end up with more cars and more pollution. The Denver region needs to move more of its money into cleaner travel options like fast, reliable bus service and safer, people-friendly streets. This is a great corridor to do that.”
“As a long time resident in Valverde I see first hand the damage done to our community because of redlining policies and the pollution from highways is just one example,” said Evon Lopez, community activist and resident of Valverde, one of the neighborhoods that would have been impacted. “I know too many of my friends and family who suffer from asthma or other health ailments and are separated from other parts of Denver by our highways. I applaud CDOT for listening to our concerns about I-25 expansion and instead of adding even more lanes to the highway, dedicating more money to increasing options like transit, improving bridges and connectivity between our neighborhoods, and investing in things like street lighting and sidewalks that can make it safer and more welcoming to get around. We need justice and equity. This decision is a good step and needs to be followed with additional steps to ensure our community is healthy and safe.”
One reason for the shift in transportation priorities is a recently passed state law mandating that CDOT and DRCOG take into account greenhouse gas emissions in their transportation planning. Over the last year, CDOT and DRCOG set greenhouse gas reduction goals and used those goals to inform their long-term plans, creating an important incentive to put the brakes on some highway capacity projects. Transportation is Colorado’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a significant source of the region’s “Severe” ozone nonattainment status.
“From drought to extreme heat, we’re seeing the impact of climate change right now. We can’t afford to keep widening our highways, drawing in more cars and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, making climate change even worse. We have to give people transportation options so they don’t have to drive to complete every trip,” said Katz. “Removing I-25 Central widening from the state’s 10-year plan signals we’re now moving in a different direction. I applaud our state and regional leaders for merging onto this new path.”
The decision to remove I-25 and another highway widening project along C-470 follows on the heels of a new analysis that found Colorado is falling behind on its overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. The analysis highlighted that one of the biggest gaps is in the transportation system.