Opponents of CDOT’s I-70 Widening File Suit Against the Federal Highway Administration
By David Sachs
In February, Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shailen Bhatt told a group of people fighting the widening of I-70 through north Denver neighborhoods to â€œsue us.â€ The advocates took his advice.
The lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration, brought by developer Kyle Zeppelin and other opponents of the highway widening, will officially be filed Monday â€” the last possible date to challenge the environmental impact statement (EIS).
FHWA approved and is helping to fund CDOTâ€™s project. The complaint says the agency violated the National Environmental Protection Act by failing to conduct sufficient oversight of the projectâ€™s EIS.
The suit takes specific aim at the agreement Denver reached with CDOT in 2015 that put local taxpayers on the hook for a project to funnel stormwater away from the 40-foot ditch the agency plans to dig to widen the freeway. The FHWA approved an EIS that did not account for the flood protection project, and the lawsuit aims to â€œshow that both the City of Denver and CDOT intentionally hid the connection between the Platte to Park Hill Drainage Project and the Central I-70 project,â€ according to a press release.
Other lawsuits are still pending against CDOTâ€™s planÂ to triple the footprint of I-70, which would generate more traffic and displace people in the mostly low-income, Latino neighborhoods of Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville.Â Advocates fighting the highway widening are going for a cumulative effect in court.
â€œRather than have a single strategy, weâ€™re trying to have a multi-pronged strategy,â€ said Brad Evans, who runs the Ditch the Ditch advocacy group and is also a plaintiff.
In related legal developments, there will be hearing in DC this September for a lawsuit that challenges the Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s lax air quality standards. And thereâ€™s also an active lawsuit against the city over the City Park Golf Course water detention plan tied to I-70.
â€œThe ideal outcome would be to put an end to the whole project,â€ said Jennifer Winkel, a local activist and spokesperson for the plaintiffs. â€œThere are four lawsuits, and this is the one that will stall it, buy us some time â€¦ If we tie it up in the courts, that buys us time for the other lawsuits to do what they need to do.â€