Denver | I-70

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    <strong>Ponce City Market</strong> <em>Atlanta, GA</em>

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    <strong>Village of Providence</strong> <em>Huntsville, AL</em>

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    Jazz Market New Orleans Audience Seating
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    <strong>Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market</strong>&nbsp; <em>New Orleans, Louisiana</em>

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    <strong>UCLA Weyburn</strong>&nbsp;<em>Los Angeles, California</em>

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    <strong>Storrs Center</strong> <em>Mansfield, CT</em>

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    A timeless place from the ground up. #thisiscnu

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For over half a century, urban highways in North America have disproportionately impacted minority communities. Running through historic neighborhoods, they have severed connectivity, demolished homes and businesses, and left blight in their wake. In Denver, the construction of Interstate 70 inflicted its ill effects on three urban neighborhoods: Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville.

In those historic minority communities, residents were cut off from opportunity, access, and needed services. Now, like many mid-20th Century highways, I-70 in Denver is reaching the end of its life cycle—and one viaduct along its route needs major repairs.

Instead, however, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has announced a $1.2 billion plan to tear down the viaduct, bury part of the highway, add four more lanes, and expand toll lanes, shoulders, and service roads. Along the way, the plan would require the state to acquire and demolish 80 residences and 17 businesses—including the neighborhood’s only source to purchase food.


Now, a group called Unite North Metro Denver has a better proposal: Reroute interstate traffic to the north, and redesign I-70 as a bike- and pedestrian-friendly boulevard. Such a plan would cut noise and air pollution while bringing new investment opportunity to neglected neighborhoods. Furthermore, the boulevard would cost less, open up developable land, and reunite areas that have been blighted by the highway.

As the debate over I-70 has grown, national and state groups have taken notice. Environmentalist leader the Sierra Club has filed a lawsuit against EPA over the proposed widening. Meanwhile, a recent report by Colorado Public Interest Research Group advises against the expansion. The report estimates $58 million in taxpayer dollars will be wasted on a project that encourages more driving and doesn’t include expansion of mass transit.

Denver capDenver boulevard
Photo, above / Cut and cap plan, latest rendering. Credit / CDOT / Photo, bottom / Tree-lined boulevard concept. Credit / Unite North Metro Denver
Photo, top / I-70 today. Credit / CDOT

Under CDOT’s proposal, burying part of the expanded I-70 would involve digging below the water table and into polluted soils. A partial 800-foot grass cover is proposed, which will be isolated between two large frontage roads, creating an isolated “recreation island” inaccessible by pedestrians or bicycle. Moreover, the data used to justify the project is more than a decade old and ignores trends of lower-than-expected motor vehicle use.

“Instead of a grade-separated, widened superhighway, dedicated to cars and trucks,” the United North Metro Denver imagines, “a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly boulevard emerges. Long-broken bicycle pathways are re-established.” Roundabouts could replace interchanges, freeing up land for development, tax revenue, and potential affordable housing. The traditional grid is reestablished, healing the long-separated neighborhoods.

Designed through a contextual and community-driven process, the new boulevard would open up and connect several neighborhoods and districts—including the National Western Complex, a set of historic venues associated with the National Western Stock Show and other events. Denver citizens recently voted to fund a restoration of the complex.

One city Councilman, Rafael Espinoza, has publicly embraced this planning approach. “For me, it’s not a matter of opinion — there’s hard science behind this,” he told The Colorado Independent. “Other communities have gotten wise to the fact that you get overall better communities by removing [large central highways], not expanding them. Rather than improving the quality of life in the core, we go to the status quo of displacing people and expanding urban sprawl.”