Victory: CDOT removes I-25 widening from construction plans, replaces with over $100 million in transit, safety improvements

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DENVER – Transportation advocates and neighborhood leaders gathered in Denver’s Sun Valley neighborhood on Thursday to celebrate the removal of a massive highway widening project in their backyard along Interstate-25. The planned highway expansion, known as I-25 Central, would have run through a 4.5 mile stretch in the heart of Denver, expanding 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.

On Thursday, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Transportation Commission officially put the brakes on the I-25 Central project, and a second highway widening project along C-470 in southeast metro Denver. CDOT has removed the highway expansions from the state’s 10-year transportation plan and replaced them with over $100 million of investments dedicated to advancing the region’s bus-rapid transit while improving street safety and connectivity along the I-25 corridor.

“After another summer with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, Colorado is taking a major step toward a cleaner, safer transportation future. I applaud Colorado 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. Colorado needs to move more of its money into cleaner travel options like fast, reliable bus service and safer, people-friendly streets.”

Last week, U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group released its 7th annual Highway Boondoggles report that exposed highway expansion project taking place across the country that, if completed, would not only waste billions of dollars but also worsen climate change, harm air quality and pave over homes and businesses – while serving to deepen the United States’ destructive dependency on cars. The I-25 expansion was going to be included in the report until it became clear the plan would be shut down.

“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 lower greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Transportation is Colorado’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a significant source of ozone. This summer alone, the metro Denver area has already experienced 40 ozone alert days. In addition, 65 people have died in traffic crashes this year just in Denver, putting the city on track for the most deaths in the past decade.

“For decades, we’ve spent too much money on highway infrastructure that locks people into a car-dependent lifestyle. We have to give people transportation options so they don’t have to drive to complete every trip. By driving less, we can help people live more, reducing pollution and increasing the livability and safety of our streets,” 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 CDOT for merging onto this new path. We have so many options along I-25 in Denver.”

The decision to remove two major highway expansion projects from the state’s transportation plan comes the same day as the state’s Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) kicked off a review of Colorado’s plan to tackle the Denver region’s decade-long failure to reduce ozone pollution to meet EPA air quality standards. CoPIRG Foundation and other advocates have pushed transportation sector emissions reductions as a key solution to address the state’s ozone problem.