Because the contractor undertaking the massive Interstate 70 expansion will be working all night for at least the next year, City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega has made a creative request for the 2019 budget to hold construction crews accountable.
At a Monday, October 1, meeting in which councilmembers submitted their 2019 budget amendments to Mayor Michael Hancock's office, Ortega requested $80,000 from the general fund that would be used to pay a full-time staffer with the Department of Public Health and Environment to monitor noise throughout the city overnight — especially the noise coming from the I-70 project.
"The environmental-health office is looking at how they will best be able to monitor other than just complaints submitted to them," says Ortega, an at-large councilmember.
If the department has a staffer who can be in the neighborhood experiencing what residents are experiencing, they'll be better informed about whether to grant the contractor, Kiewit Meridiam Partners, a noise-variance waiver next year, she explains.
At the City Council budget meeting, only six members voted for the proposal. It needed one more to be included in a list of recommendations sent by the council to Hancock's office. Ortega instead says her staff hand-delivered a letter making a specific request for the money.
"The source of funds for this request is the general fund, but other sources of funding to consider are to seek a potential contribution from Kiewit Meridiam if the monitoring and oversight is aimed at Central I-70," the letter reads.
Ortega says the additional staffing would be an assurance to neighbors in the area who have to live near the construction that the city will hold the contractor accountable. "Where you have serious noise problems, it affects your health. If you can't sleep, then you can't get up and be at work and be expected to do your job the same way as when you get a rested night's sleep," Ortega says.
Kiewit Meridiam was granted a waiver by the Board of Public Health and Environment at a September 6 meeting to work at night, but only for the next year. The company had requested a waiver that would have applied for more than four years, but instead will have to reapply for another waiver next year. The board also asked that department staff come up with a game plan for better noise monitoring. This addition to the budget will help with that, Ortega says. With so much construction in Denver, the staffer would also be charged with monitoring other construction projects that might be noisy at night.
The $1.2 billion project will last through 2022. It will expand portions of I-70 and also replace the I-70 viaduct between Brighton and Colorado boulevards with a lowered highway topped with a park.
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Kiewit Meridiam is also required to make specific accommodations for residents if the noise is expected to be especially disruptive, like providing transportation to hotels, hotel rooms and meal vouchers, Ortega says.
"There may be situations where people don't get that notice and they're experiencing the high levels of noise," she adds.
As for why she didn't get more support for the request, Ortega says it's probably because it's not seen as a citywide issue. But the construction of I-70 is a unique situation, with contractors under the gun to get the project done as quickly as possible to prevent traffic disruptions for everyone else, and one group of neighbors taking the brunt of the day-to-day impact.
"I know we've got construction going on in many of our neighborhoods across the city, but I don't know how many of those projects have requested waivers to be operating at night," she adds.