Ditch the delay on Interstate 70 expansion

It’s a concerning recipe for disaster: a low-income neighborhood, surrounded by contamination from heavy industry, facing the condemnations and demolitions of houses for a major construction project in a time when the housing market is skyrocketing.

Fortunately, the Colorado Department of Transportation is doing things right as it prepares to expand Interstate 70 and drop it below grade so a cap can reunite communities and become a school playground and park.

Before we roll through the list of good things CDOT is doing to placate residents, we’ll give credit where its is due: Many of these accommodations were made in response to vocal and organized advocacy on behalf of a community that has suffered historically from a lack of resources. Those advocates should be applauded for their diligence and good work.

However, after 14 years, we feel strongly that the planned I-70 expansion on its existing route through north Denver and Aurora is the right thing for the state. The cost of the $1.2 billion project will only be driven up by further delay. Remaining points of concern — about stormwater or pollution — should be addressed by engineers in the final stages of preparation for construction. The last-minute lawsuits filed last week to challenge the project are misguided; CDOT definitely shouldn’t “Ditch the Ditch.”

Plaintiffs question whether CDOT’s engineers adequately accounted for the water that will flow through this floodplain on a project that puts a major interstate below grade. Fair question, but we are satisfied by CDOT’s response that the project’s stormwater system is designed to handle big storms on its own and is not dependent on the city’s near-simultaneous plans to address stormwater issues in the same area.

What’s the right way to take 56 homes and to saddle a community with years of construction and an expanded interstate? Here’s a guide:

CDOT pushed for increased ability to compensate property owners and renters for their displacement under the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.

A CDOT official says 24 renters have elected to take the 42 months of rental payments as a lump sum and are using the money as a down payment to become homeowners in a neighborhood of their choosing.

Homeowners are not just handed the cash value of their home, a price that would likely leave them unable to buy anything else in the city or even first-ring suburbs. Instead CDOT works to find replacement housing in their preferred location and pays for the difference.

For another 300 homeowners and renters who aren’t in the actual path of the future interstate, CDOT is committed to equipping their homes with storm windows and either a window or portable air conditioning unit; the city will work with some to bridge the gap between that and installing a permanent central AC system. Homeowners will also get utility credits to help offset the increased cost of operating these units.

CDOT has set aside $2 million for affordable housing in the city.

Finally, CDOT launched a job training center in the community last week to train neighborhood residents so they can help fill a requirement that 20 percent of the workforce on the project come from 15 neighborhoods surrounding I-70 through Denver and Aurora. That’s approximately 350 jobs, reports The Denver Post’s Jon Murray.

It’s time to ditch the delay and, if not accept the offer on the table, make a nuanced and specific plea for what else is needed.

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Source : http://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/17/ditch-the-delay-on-interstate-70-expansion/

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