Heidi and Burdock became first-time homeowners two years ago when they bought their home on South Lincoln Street in the West Washington Park neighborhood near the northbound Interstate 25 ramps.
The circa 1907 duplex sits on an island, with two other duplexes and three single family homes, sequestered by East Ohio Avenue, the highway entrance and exit ramps, and an empty building in the rear.
Being surrounded by heavy traffic escaping the highway and pouring onto South Lincoln, along with cars impatiently waiting to cross Lincoln to force their way onto I-25, can be a nightmare for residents. But Burdock said the home was perfect for the couple because it was affordable and in a desirable neighborhood.
“We were not expecting to buy a house because of our budget, and we went to this open house with a dream and realized we could swing it,” Burdock said. “We were able to purchase this home because of its location near the highway. It made it affordable to us… This is our dream neighborhood, and the only reason we were able to get in is because of the highway.”
But the highway may become the reason they are forced to leave.
Unbeknownst to the couple, they purchased a home that is under eminent domain by the city and may one day be demolished for the sake of the highway.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The South Broadway project has been in the works for well over 14 years, but the real action began when the area was rezoned to be a transit-oriented development. So-called TOD zoning focuses on creating a dense environment where Denverites have housing and more pedestrian-friendly roadways centered around a rail station or high-transit corridor. The project seeks to improve safety on the corridor, and improve pedestrian and bicycle access to RTD’s I-25 & Broadway Station from upcoming developments, such as the Gates Redevelopment, and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The Broadway Station is RTD’s second highest utilized station, according to Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for Denver’s transportation department. The station hosts five train lines and four bus routes connecting 60% of its passengers to Arapahoe and Douglas counties, so “making it easier for people to access the station…helps everyone move easier [and reduces] vehicle congestion into the downtown core as people can use transit instead,” Kuhn said.
The project is multilayered and some parts have already been completed, including the reconstruction of Exposition Avenue from Lincoln to Broadway, the reconstruction of South Broadway from Kentucky to Arizona and a section of Mississippi Avenue between the Consolidated Main Line Railway and Sherman Street. In all instances, asphalt was replaced with concrete, new traffic signals were installed and sidewalks and streetscapes were slightly widened to improve mobility for pedestrians and bikers.
The next portion of the project focuses on redesigning the ramps to I-25, starting with the southbound side.
None of the prior projects or the current southbound project affect the couple. In fact, they are all for creating a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Heidi walks to work and feels the pressure crossing South Lincoln Street everyday.
The future phase of the project, however, may uproot the couple.
The northbound entrance and exit currently sits at a five-legged intersection. The exit ramp feeds cars onto South Lincoln, which is a one-way street. When cars exit they can yield to the right heading east on East Ohio, turn left immediately onto Ohio or make a complete U-turn crossing the entrance ramp onto South Lincoln where the couple live. Cars going west on East Ohio can go straight, crossing South Lincoln, or make a left onto the entrance ramp. The same goes for cars heading east on Ohio. They can make a right onto the entrance ramp or cross Lincoln to continue going straight.
If it sounds like a mess, that’s because it is, and the transportation department is aware.
“A key driver of this project is to improve safety,” Kuhn said. “The on and off ramps to northbound I-25 at this location…need improvements. They’re in an unusual configuration that is generally confusing to navigate.”
To fix this, DOTI wants to expand the onramp and turn it into a wider circular entrance. Cars will only be allowed to enter going east from Ohio.
According to the department and an environmental assessment conducted through the activation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the homes sitting in the nook of the northbound ramps would need to be acquired to move forward with the ramp reconfiguration. The houses don’t need to be acquired because they are widening the ramp. But by moving all onramp traffic to the eastside of Ohio, access to that portion of South Lincoln will be closed, making the intersection four legs instead of five.
And although the homes are old, it was determined that they aren’t historic buildings, so the city can acquire them, displacing the residents.
“We did not know about the plans for eminent domain when we moved in. We found out last year from a neighbor,” Burdock said. “It should’ve been disclosed to us both by the seller, the seller’s realtor and our realtor. The city hasn’t contacted us about this. We feel completely left on the lurch to figure out timeline and clarity. I just don’t really understand the reasoning behind the shift. I hear the city pushing for non-commuter options and really wanting to decrease cars, and yet they’re still pursuing this project.”
The couple can sue the realty company that sold them the home but have decided against it, saying it would be too much of a hassle.
The couple also learned about the right-of-way acquisition through the Lincoln/Broadway Corridor Neighborhood Organization and the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association.
Brittany Spinner is the founder and vice president of the Corridor Organization. She moved to the area three years ago thinking South Lincoln was a pedestrian friendly road, but she soon realized she was mistaken. Spinner said there were accidents every month and crossing Lincoln to head to the supermarket gave her an adrenaline rush she didn’t like.
“Nobody is listening to us,” Spinner said. “Already you don’t want to walk here. The justification is they want to make it a better ramp so cars can get onto the highway faster but if you want to make this a true transit-oriented development and make it easier to walk, you shouldn’t be accommodating cars in this way. With their new design, they’re making crossing distances longer and you have to zigzag back and forth across these pedestrian crosswalks to get to the RTD station. Where’s the bike paths? How is this efficient?”
Spinner said the transportation department should consider making all northbound and southbound traffic enter I-25 on Broadway. This would keep the houses on the 800 block of South Lincoln and create a triangle-shaped connection from Broadway to South Lincoln Street. The RNO will be hosting a walking tour of the area to demonstrate how they feel the project can better benefit pedestrians.
So when is all this happening? The transportation department doesn’t have funding for the northbound portion of the project, and it doesn’t know when or from where it will receive the funding.
Kuhn said the department will seek funding from the usual routes of federal or state grants, but final designs, construction and a timeline for the land acquisition can’t be determined until that funding is identified.
The department will eventually move forward with the last portion of the South Broadway project.
“Given that we’ve established the need for improvements through the environmental assessment process, our federal partners on the project expect us to follow through on them,” Kuhn said.
Right now, the southbound ramp changes are scheduled to be complete by 2025. Until then, the couple say they will wait to get a final answer on their home’s future.
Through the Uniform Relocation Act, the federal law that governs the purchase of property and relocation of families for major infrastructure projects, the couple are entitled to receive help relocating. When and if the time comes, they’ll negotiate with the city’s division of real estate regarding relocation funding.
Burdock said the only silver lining to the story is that their house will be valued at West Wash Park prices as opposed to the lowered price they paid due to the location. According to realtor.com, the median listing home price in the neighborhood is $899,500.
“It’s really scary because we don’t know when this will happen,” Burdock said. “We’re a generation that wants to be invested in a community and to have no idea when we’re going to be kicked out of our home? A lot of us work here in the neighborhood. We’re investing our time and effort in making an impact here but now it’s all about this highway shift. It’s hard to feel planted and to feel the security that you should feel when you make a huge fiscal investment like buying a house.
“I feel like Denver has no eye on traditional housing solutions, and it has made us reconsider moving and that’s tough,” Burdock continued. “We love Denver and we want to make an impact here, but at what risk?”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove certain personal identifying information.