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Controversial plan to widen I-70 through Denver gets greenlight from feds

DENVER -- Federal transportation officials have given the greenlight to widen Interstate 70 in northeast Denver, but neighborhood groups say the fight is far from over.

After a 15-year legal battle, the federal government approved the long-debated plan last week. It would widen I-70 through some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods.

The approval is a major victory for the Colorado Department of Transportation as it begins to break ground on the most expensive highway project in state history.

However, some yard signs in the area say the fight is not over, with some signs reading “Ditch the I-70 Ditch” and “It’s not too late."

“It makes me angry more than anything,” said Alonso Cabral, whose home sits in the shadow of the 53-year-old I-70 viaduct set to be torn down.

His family has lived there more than 40 years and they're still not sure if their home will remain but can't afford to move.

"There's lead in the dirt. I have kids. When they start doing all this, what's going to happen to the kids, what's going to happen to my kid who’s got asthma?" Cabral said.

The neighborhood is 80 percent Latino with the highest density of pollution in the state.

But last week, federal officials approved CDOT’s five-year, $1.2 billion plan to tear down the viaduct and triple the width of the I-70 footprint, burying it below grade through the neighborhood.

"Public opposition is growing," said Drew Dutcher, president of the Elyria Swansea Neighborhood Association.

"This the worst possible solution. This is an environmental disaster. ... This is an economic boondoggle. It will be $2 billion if it's a penny. It will take far longer than the five years that they say.”

Jack Ruddy said he was told his home of 10 years is scheduled for destruction.

"If I want to stay in Denver, then they'll relocate me into some place around here. The numbers that I've seen don't look like that's possible," he said.

CDOT maintains the plan is set to break ground next year. A four-acre park over the lowered freeway is the least expensive and most environmentally sound.

“This is a 1960s solution when we should be looking at 21st century solutions to our cities and to transportation. There are many better options," Dutcher said.

Opposition groups say there is still a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency set to be heard this fall, claiming it broke its own rules to allow the project.