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Federal Highway Administration OKs I-70 reconstruction project

DENVER -- The Federal Highway Administration approved the Colorado Department of Transportation's plan to reconstruct a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 70 that runs through central Denver.

CDOT has been formulating a plan for the section of I-70 for 14 years.

CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt said it has taken a long time to create a plan that improves traffic while minimizing the impact of the expansion on surrounding neighborhoods.

"If there is one thing I have learned in this job, it doesn't matter what decision we make, someone is not going to be happy. We believe that we have followed the law and done everything we can do to provide the best possible solution while reconnecting this neighborhood," Bhatt said.

Bhatt said the viaduct is crumbling and engineers rate it the worst bridge in Colorado. When engineers built the 53-year-old viaduct, they didn't envision the traffic flow that the stretch of interstate now sees on a daily basis.

Currently, 50,000 to 200,000 vehicles pass through that section of I-70 each day. It's congested 10 hours a day. CDOT said if crews leave the section as is, 270,000 vehicles will pass through every day by 2035 and it'll be congested for almost 13 hours a day.

Bhatt said it's getting to a critical point that if nothing is done, there could be big consequences.

"It's structurally deficient and only getting worse," Bhatt said.

Under the plan, CDOT will expand the interstate and add express lanes, and a portion will be lowered.

The top of the lowered interstate will feature a large sports field, an amphitheater and an area for a farmers market. CDOT will also contribute $2 million to affordable housing.

CDOT said it will hire 20 percent of the project's workforce from local neighborhoods. Bhatt said the workers will be trained in skills that they can then take with them to new jobs.

As part of the project, 56 homes and some businesses will be torn down to accommodate for the larger interstate.

A civil rights lawsuit said the expansion comes with huge social and economic costs to the larger Latino population living in the area.

Bhatt said CDOT is following the law and doing everything it can to minimize the impact on the community. The civil rights complaint is still being investigated.

The project will cost $1.2 billion. CDOT hopes to start construction in 2018. The project is expected to last five years with the goal to wrap it up in 2022 or 2023.