DALLAS – A coalition of environmental and civic groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to derail Colorado’s $1.8 billion plan to rebuild a 12-mile segment of Interstate 70 in Denver that the state expects to finance through a public-private partnership.
The groups are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency and director Gina McCarthy over revisions last year to the Clean Air Act. They contend that the I-70 project would not have been eligible for federal funding under earlier guidelines that regulate particulate pollution levels, but the EPA relaxed the rules in November.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last week in the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit include the Sierra Club, Citizens for Greater Denver, and two neighborhood groups.
The environmental groups said that the EPA revisions were issued with no public notice and are too lenient.
“CDOT now has a golden opportunity to correct a half-century of harm done to Denver citizens,” said Becky English, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter. “We hope this lawsuit causes CDOT to investigate removing the traffic and pollution from north Denver neighborhoods.”
The Colorado Department of Transportation wants to rebuild the 12-mile segment of I-70 through northeastern Denver to widen the road, remove a viaduct, and lower a portion of road. A four-acre landscaped deck park would be built over an 800-foot long portion of the sunken interstate.
I-70, which was completed 50 years ago, is the area’s major east-west transportation corridor and connects the city with Denver International Airport. The aging Denver viaduct, which carries 140,000 vehicles a day, is beyond its useful life and should be replaced, CDOT said.
Tolled lanes would be added in both directions, with tolls that vary depending on congestion and the time of day. The highway will be widened from eight lanes to 10 on one segment and from six to eight on the others. Two more toll lanes may be added in the future, CDOT said.
CDOT spokeswoman Rebecca White said the widening project will comply with all federal and state air quality standards. The state’s environmental study concluded that adding four new lanes to the road would not violate the new standards, she said.
“In the final [environmental study] there are hundreds of pages devoted to air quality,” White said. “CDOT is very confident in the integrity of the air quality analysis we have done for the I-70 East project and the fact that the proposed improvements to I-70 East fully comply with air quality standards.”
The Colorado Transportation Commission agreed in February 2015 at CDOT’s recommendation that the I-70 project should be financed as a P3.
“The total cost of the improvements identified in the environmental study for I-70 East is estimated at $1.8 billion,” a commission spokesman said. “CDOT does not have sufficient funds available to construct a project of this magnitude.”
The transportation commission in June asked the state’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise to explore a P3 for the I-70 project.
The state expects to select a private partner this fall from a shortlist of four international construction and finance groups picked in late 2015. The financial close is set for early 2017.
The selected partner will design, finance, build, operate and maintain the rebuilt road in exchange for annual availability payments from the state.
The potential partners include I-70 Mile High Partners, with partners Cintra and Bechtel; Kiewit/Meridiam Partners, with Kiewit Infrastructure Group and Meridiam North America; 5280 Connectors, with Plenary Group, Zachry Construction Corp. and Skanska Infrastructure Group; and Front Range Mobility Group, which includes Hochtief Solutions North America, ACS Infrastructure Development Inc., Aecom Capital, and John Laing Investments.