Campaign promises abound in any political race. But Peter Smith, a Democratic candidate for Colorado Senate District 32, released a statement this week vowing to fight for something that no other candidates in the state Senate race have on their platforms: long-term protection for residents affected by the infamous I-70 expansion project in north Denver.
"I am convinced that projects like the I-70 expansion are a necessary expansion for the safety of our citizens and growth of our state," Smith says. "However, the growing pains of improving our infrastructure includes making sure those communities are not displaced, and that Coloradans' health is not sabotaged."
Smith points to the potentially detrimental health effects of the expansion project that have brewed controversy as well as two recent lawsuits against the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
The lawsuits question whether the Central 70 project violates the Clean Air Act and whether the Highway Administration bypassed regulations stipulated by the National Environmental Policy Act. "[We need] to devise a state-of-the-art Road Dust Control action plan that greatly increases road-dust control measures along the I-70 expansion area," Smith said.
An artist's rendering of the expanded I-70 highway as it descends under a four-acre "greenspace" cover near Fillmore Street.
Colorado Department of Transportation
Smith points to the drastic effects the influx of development and infrastructure improvements are having on the cost of living. As property values skyrocket in Denver, many deeply rooted residents are facing the risk of displacement. In 2015, Community Strategies Institute, an outside consultant firm, recommended that CDOT invest $14.5 million in neighborhoods to help counteract the change in cost of living and loss of affordable housing. CDOT ultimately invested $2 million.
Rebecca White, a spokeswoman for the I-70 expansion project, says the amount is adequate. The decision to invest $2 million, she explains, was "informed by experts in the housing community" and was an effective amount to "trigger affordable housing units and leverage additional funds." She also notes that CDOT is investing $17 million in improvements for Swansea Elementary School, which sidles the section of I-70 that will be expanded, and putting additional funds toward dust- and noise-control improvements for about 300 homes nearby.
"We are taking steps never taken in Colorado," she says, noting that most departments of transportation around the country haven't made such large-scale community investments.
But for Smith, this decision was a major error. "CDOT must fund the full $15 million suggested investments to the surrounding areas to make up for the loss of affordable housing and to deter the cost-of-living increases," he says.
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Although District 32 comprises a portion of south Denver, Smith emphasizes that his position in the Senate should require standing up "for what is right for all Coloradans."
In 2012, Smith gained national attention after "glitter-bombing" Mitt Romney during a visit to Denver. He was charged with three misdemeanors, including "throwing a missile," and wound up performing community service.
The race for District 32, now held by Democrat Irene Aguilar, is already crowded with other Democratic candidates, including former Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Denver Robert Rodriguez, entrepreneur Zach Neumann and activist Lance Wright.