Facing a federal investigation of the discriminatory impacts that would result from its proposal to triple the width of I-70 through predominantly Latino communities, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced last week that it plans to go ahead with the expansion.
The Federal Highway Administration’s investigation, which focuses on violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was initiated by a formal complaint filed by neighborhood groups in Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, and by the Colorado Latino Forum. The FHWA’s Office of Civil Rights, an independent arm of the agency will continue its investigation.
“CDOT’s decision is in keeping with its history of steamrolling the neighborhoods and overlooking the significant health, social and economic costs that come with this freeway. Homes, schools and businesses are all within feet of I-70, and with the expansion, nearly 200 residents will lose their homes and the ones who can stay will be subject to increased risks from pollution. The residents of Elyria-Swansea and Globeville deserve better,” said Joel Minor, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents the neighborhood groups in the civil rights case.
Residents of these neighborhoods have for decades unfairly suffered from I-70’s harmful effects.
Residents’ life expectancy is years shorter than elsewhere in Denver, and they suffer from increased rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions associated with living near highways. CDOT’s decision to expand the highway needlessly adds to these burdens, despite the presence of feasible, less discriminatory alternatives.
By forging ahead with its plan to expand I-70 through the neighborhoods, CDOT is doubling down on these impacts by exposing them to even more air pollution, noise, traffic and serious health hazards.
The FHWA’s Office of Civil Rights may determine that CDOT violated the Civil Rights Act based on the disparate burden that I-70 imposes on the neighborhoods, together with the existence of feasible alternatives. Alternatives like rerouting I-70 or reconfiguring the project exist, but CDOT refused neighborhood requests to evaluate them. And, importantly, CDOT also rejected requests that it complete a health assessment of I-70’s impact on residents.
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