Interstate 70 reconstruction plan draws criticism

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Transportation might be facing heat for its $1.8 billion plan to reconstruct Interstate 70 in northeast Denver.

CDOT wants to reduce congestion on I-70, improve safety and make it easier to get on and off one of Colorado’s busiest highways. It sounds positive, but it’s how the agency plans to finance it that have many people raising their eyebrows, especially after the dispute surrounding its U.S. 36 project.

CDOT has been talking about the major reconstruction on I-70 for a couple of years. It wants to replace the section between Brighton Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard, and widen it to 10 lanes.

There are also plans to put part of the interstate below ground. It will likely include some toll lanes, just like on U.S. 36. CDOT has said it prefers hiring a private company to help finance the project.

But the same kind of public-private partnership was a source of controversy when CDOT cut a 50-year deal to lease U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver to a private company.

CDOT recently touted an online poll of more than 16,000 showing more than 50 percent of people want some sort of tolling and public-private partnerships to pay for new roads and maintenance. Nearly 37 percent say they want to increase the state gas tax or sales tax to pay for more free lanes.

But a senior instructor told the Denver Post the poll “was a joke. It was the most biased polls I’ve ever seen.”

In replay, CDOT says the poll was just to gauge people’s opinions on public-private partnerships and it wasn’t “valid research.”

It also says it’s just getting people involved in looking at ways to finance the project. The work won’t start for another two years.