Some of the people who fought the widening of a highway through their north Denver neighborhoods now might get free RTD passes or what amounts to a gift card for the tolled express lanes being built in their backyard.
Locals could also see a combination of the two, Nick Farber, director of the High Performance Transportation Enterprise, told the Transportation Commission of Colorado this week. Nothing is set in stone, but those options came from eight total possibilities discussed by a “tolling equity” committee inside HPTE, a state-owned business that collects toll dollars.
The program is not a voluntary act of kindness but a stipulation of the federal government, which provided a bunch of money for the widening. Many locals fought the widening on the grounds of pollution, health and displacement.
But the mostly Latino and lower-income residents of Globeville, Elyria and Swansea could face a “financial burden” from the toll lanes, the I-70 expansion’s record of decision states, and RTD passes or toll passes loaded with a certain amount of money — or both — could help ease that burden.
“We’ve narrowed it down to some options that seem attractive … but I want to be clear that though these are the options emerging favorably, we still want to listen to the neighborhood, work with people in the neighborhood, and try to get the best program for the neighborhood,” said Tim Hoover, a spokesperson for HPTE.
The enterprise surveyed 275 residents of the north Denver neighborhoods and found that 84 percent of respondents use I-70 at least once a week, according to HPTE documents. Forty-five percent use the highway fewer than five times a week.
Nola Miguel, a neighborhood organizer with the Globeville Elyria Swansea Coalition Organizing for Health and Housing Justice, said her organization was hoping that funds from the tolls could be used to maintain areas the land around the newly widened highway.
“It’s better than nothing!” Miguel said via text message, adding that the highway is needed just to get around the neighborhood.
Lacey Champion works for Northeast Transportation Connections, which is helping HPTE reach locals to understand what would benefit them most. She does not speak for the neighborhood, she said, but as local transportation expert said she understands that the highway construction has created issues for locals.
“We’re constantly pushing back against the barriers that we’ve experienced getting around, and we are informing them, so hopefully the programs that they’re bringing to the community will be helping the community.”
Whatever the final perks, they’re supposed to be decided on before the toll lanes open, according to the record of decision. Locals can expect a public meeting on the program in late September.