Which Side Of The Ditch Are You On?
DENVER — Although overhead signs on I-70 proclaim, “Changes coming to I-70 soon,” the Ditch the Ditch movement continues to gain more followers to resist the proposed expansion of I-70 through North Denver. No one in the group—which started as a small but committed advocacy team—believes that there is a reason to give up hope yet. When Ditch the Ditch, initially a Facebook group, was created, increasing resistance to the project amongst citizens throughout Denver started to coalesce. Brad K. Evans, the marketing genius behind its inception, recently posted that, “It’s remarkable that this group has grown to 5300+ and yet those over at #cdot continue to believe that ‘it’s 60 or 70 people opposed to this project.’”
Lawsuits Roll In
Several lawsuits are well on their way toward halting the expanded roadway. A date has been set in Washington, D.C., on September 19, 2017, to hear the case against the EPA levied by the Sierra Club in 2016. Community organizations representing neighborhoods in North Denver adjacent to I-70 joined the Sierra Club to challenge new EPA guidance relied upon by the CDOT to determine that increased emissions from the expanded interstate highway would not violate national air quality standards. A second suit, filed July 10, 2017 and involving similar groups, is pending. Both, according to legal eagle Aaron Goldhamer, “have a high focus on clean air issues.”
An additional suit, also filed July 10, takes aim at alleged National Environmental Policy Act violations related to the I-70 project, such as the related drainage projects and handling of hazardous materials. Goldhamer’s firm, Keating Wagner Polidori Free, is counsel for various individuals bringing that case.
Evans, a plaintiff in that suit, said, “Our goal has been, since the inception of #ditchtheditch, to inform folks about the perils of digging a multi-billion dollar, two mile trench in what’s considered to be one of the most polluted zip codes in the country. There are smarter solutions to this highway project, which could include re-routing over-the- road traffic out of the city core, and creating a multi-use boulevard that reconnects the city’s street grid.”
Yet another lawsuit remains pending concerning the use of historic City Park Golf Course—which is designated parkland under Denver’s Charter, entitling it to certain protections—for a stormwater management project to protect the proposed lowered highway from flooding. Goldhamer and Keating Wagner are also counsel on that case.
Unique Fundraisers Focus On Mounting Legal Fees
A series of fundraisers have infiltrated the social and socially-moral circuit to raise money and consciousness for the legal actions. From swag tees, to GoFundMe donation-matching, to a Ditch the Ditch Bike-to-Work Station at Civic Center Park, to a pool party at the TAXI building in Rino, to backyard picnics and barbeques throughout North Denver, to a screening of “Citizen Jane” the group has raised close to $40,000. The financial push continues to ensure that a lack of resources does not get in the way of progress.
Citizen Jane is an inspired view of what a “normal citizen” can do. Jane Jacobs, a writer and urban activist fought to save historic New York City during the 1960s. Robert Moses’ development era and highway expansion program had a “people be damned” attitude. Roadways were cutting through neighborhoods and creating high-rise ghettos in the name “progress” while prioritizing cars. Jacobs fought back against all odds and saved a variety of potential urban road disasters in New York City, including bulldozing Washington Square Park. The film will be shown again at the Denver Coliseum on September 20 at the Denver Cruiser Ride.
Will The Political Landscape Shift?
At the Park Hill 4th of July Parade, Ditch the Ditch members and City Park Friends and Neighbors banded together. Goldhamer and stakeholders like Candi CdeBaca and Drew Dutcher from the Cross Community Coalition and Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association met up with Speaker of the Colorado House Crisanta Duran to discuss the project.
The advocacy teams have been working hard to engage politicians in the fight against the highway. At a minimum, the group is asking that re-routing I-70 through town along I-76 and I-270 be more seriously considered. Lines are being drawn in the proverbial sand (or pavement) to identify the players that will stand with their constituents on the question of, “Are you for the Ditch or against the Ditch?” To date the only politicians who have taken an active position against the highway expansion are District 1 Councilman Rafael Espinoza, Councilwoman at Large Debbie Ortega, and District 6 Councilman Paul Kashmann.
Goldhamer discussed his concerns about public transit solutions, the high cost of implementing this stretch of highway and social justice issues in a Facebook post after the parade, “Speaker Duran, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and others at the parade yesterday. I appreciate your open mind concerning the I-70 issues…. The highway has been killing people in these highly-polluted neighborhoods for years, and the expansion will make that worse…. The hazardous material control budget for disrupting the Superfund soils in this area appears inadequate. Noise and odor from the highway will expand and further detract from the quality of life. The cavernous ditch and the removed crossing-points will impose more separation in the neighborhood than the small park will provide. Induced demand from a widened road may very well lead to worse traffic in the long-run in the future…along with higher maintenance costs. Denver’s stormwater rate payers are subsidizing the stormwater protection with the new higher rates, to the detriment of the $1.5B in backlogged drainage work around the City. “In sum, it just seems like bad urban planning, and I want to see smarter decisions made for my hometown!”
How To Be A Citizen Jane
Average citizens can make a difference. As Evans posted on July 6, “We are asking each of you that have already joined the Ditch the Ditch group to invite 10 of your friends to join! It’s an easy ask, that costs $0. Plus it grows this group into something that can no longer be ignored. Can you help?” If you want to throw a few bucks in for good measure, go to https://www.gofundme.com/ditchtheditch
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Denver native and editor of the North Denver Tribune.
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