Another city, another fight over a city-blighting freeway project | Arkansas Blog

Another city, another fight over a city-blighting freeway project


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Now the story of a city fighting the damaging impact of an urban freeway expansion project comes from Denver.

Colorado is one of many states continuing to grapple with the legacy of the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act, which laid the map for thousands of miles of interstates. It also sent many highways rolling through black, immigrant and low-income urban communities, saddling people from the Bronx to Los Angeles with pollution, disease and blight.

With growing support for infrastructure overhauls across America — President Trump has vowed to “streamline and expedite” road and bridge projects — the expansion here could serve as a harbinger for communities facing similar choices in the months ahead.

The $1.17 billion plan for Colorado’s Interstate 70, which links the airport, downtown and ski resorts to the west, calls for the demolition of 56 homes and 17 businesses. In their place, engineers will lay tolled express lanes available to those who can pay for a faster commute.

The plan involves knocking down a viaduct and dropping the highway into a ditch as much as 40 feet deep. When the project is done, 270,000 vehicles could pass through the neighborhood each day.
The Arkansas Freeway Department can say, at least, that the 30 Crossing Concrete Gulch through Little Rock won't be a 40-foot ditch. But Colorado can say, "At least we're making commuters pay a bit to get home to the flight suburbs faster." Colorado is also contributing money to new parks and for housing relocation. There've been vague promises of green space additions in Little Rock, but not much specific talk about how to pay for them, not to mention the hundreds of millions in additional expansion the Concrete Gulch will require at other points in the transportation system.

In Denver, activists have promoted an alternative plan. Sound familiar?

That plan would divert traffic onto highways that skirt the city and turn the interstate route into a leafy boulevard with sidewalks. It is the latest sign of a growing national interest in eliminating 20th-century highways that cut through urban cores, and supporters say it is the state’s chance to remake Elyria-Swansea.

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