Denver7 | TrafficDriving You Crazy

Actions

Driving You Crazy: Why is new construction allowed to be built right next to the highway?

Screenshot 2019-12-30 09.52.11.png
Posted at 4:14 AM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 07:35:07-05

JT from Denver writes, “What’s driving you crazy? CDOT has mentioned that they are often limited in what they can do with highway improvements because of the costs associated with eminent domain. With that in mind and knowing that freeways like I-25 will need to be widened again at some point (probably sooner than later based on how quickly this area continues to grow), why is new construction allowed to be built right next to the highway? I-25 at Logan and between 15th & 20th Streets are just two areas that will likely be bottlenecks when it comes time to expand. It seems that there is a lack of coordinated planning between CDOT and the permitting agency that's going to lead to a greater cost to taxpayers down the road (pun intended).”

JT, I took your question to CDOT’s Region One Right-of-Way Manager Nancy Terry to answer your questions one by one.

Q: "CDOT has mentioned that they are often limited in what they can do with highway improvements because of the costs associated with eminent domain."

A: “CDOT’s ability to purchase property using eminent domain is strictly regulated by both State and Federal laws, which are primarily designed to protect the rights of private property owners. You may be surprised to learn that even the highest land acquisition prices in the area are a minor part of expensive road construction project totals, and only 18% of CDOT's active projects with federal funding need land acquisition at all. Eminent domain acquisition costs typically range from about 4%-15% of total project budgets.”

Q. "With that in mind and knowing that freeways like I-25 will need to be widened again at some point (probably sooner than later based on how quickly this area continues to grow), why is new construction allowed to be built right next to the highway?"

A. “Your local jurisdictions (cities & counties) determine setback requirements – CDOT only identifies what is needed for travel and maintenance. Widening is no longer the only option, as new realities of funding and public demand for different transportation alternatives – bike paths, trains, shoulder utilization, bus lanes – are evolving and must be considered.”

Q. "I-25 at Logan and between 15th & 25th Streets are just two areas that will likely be bottlenecks when it comes time to expand. It seems that there is a lack of coordinated planning between CDOT and the permitting agency that's going to lead to a greater cost to taxpayers down the road (pun intended)."

A. “There’s no other permitting agency involved, though we must collaborate with local agencies and railroads on many topics like drainage, utilities and access. Major project options are studied and planned years in advance, requiring as much as a decade to design, acquire public input, Federal, environmental and State Transportation Commission approvals, as well as identifying sources and availability of funding. CDOT can’t approach property owners to purchase property until environmental studies showing potential alternatives are identified and completed, which can take up to 10 years.”

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

The main area that you mentioned in your concern JT is in downtown Denver. That section of I-25 with the tall concrete walls and massive apartment buildings next to the interstate is eventually going to be improved, not necessarily widened or needing more land. CDOT, for the past several years, has been working on the I-25 Central Planning and Environmental Linkages Study. It includes the section of I-25 between Alameda Ave and 20th Street. That 5-mile section is the heaviest traveled sections of highway in all of Colorado.

As part of the improvements, CDOT wants to replace two main bridges, at 23rd Avenue and Speer Boulevard. The bridges were built in the 1950’s and while I think the bridge at Speer looks interesting, it is not in great shape and needs to be replaced. In the latest National Bridge Inventory report, it lists both the northbound and southbound Speer bridges in poor condition calling them structurally deficient. In the structural evaluation of one of the Speer Blvd bridges, the NBI reports describes the functionality as, “Somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.” Not a glowing review.

One of the problems with the Speer and 23rd Ave bridges is that large trucks need to be in the correct lane to clear the low clearance of the bridges. Sometimes the bridges are hit causing more damage to the structure as well as the impact to traffic flow. Other improvements would include better access ramps on and off the highway to make traffic flow better. Congestion through this section regularly causes “spill-back” on the local street network. Any work would also correct the narrow shoulders and lack of space for disabled vehicles or emergency response. Pedestrian and bicycle access on Speer and 23rd Ave would also be improved.

CDOT estimated in 2018 that the cost would be roughly $65 million to replace the two bridges. CDOT would need much more money to make all the other I-25 flow improvements in this area, money they don’t have. Several ballot initiatives over the past several years that would have raised money to make these as well as other statewide roadway and bridge improvements have all been voted down, so construction has been put on hold. Improvements to part of the corridor, Alameda to 6th Ave, have already been approved however, like the rest of the section, work has not been funded yet.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.