I-70 alternative: Meet the man behind the plan to bring divided neighborhoods together

The stretch of I-70 that crosses north Denver is a rough ride -- and the reputation of that 1.2 mile patch of pavement -- and plans for its replacement -- will get roughed up even further today, at the North Metro Denver Citizen's Transportation Summit. The Colorado Department of Transportation has been working on plans to replace much of the viaduct that cuts through north Denver for more than a decade; two years ago, in response to complaints, CDOT director Don Hunt came up with a proposal to put at least some of I-70 underground, capping it with a park that would help reunite neighborhoods divided by the highway decades ago. But that doesn't go far enough for critics of the plan. They'll outline a much grander alternative at today's summit, where John Norquist and Ian Lockwood, leading proponents of new urbanism, will talk about how cities around the country are removing their highways altogether.

One of the people behind the summit is John Prosser, professor emeritus of architecture and urban design at the University of Colorado Denver, who has been keeping an eye on Colorado's urban landscape. After joining CU-Boulder's School of Architecture in 1966, he moved to Denver in 1969 -- the point at which the architecture school became the College of Environmental Design and put its graduate program here. When he wasn't busy teaching students, Prosser was thinking about how to improve where they would study; that same year, CU hired Prosser to create an alternative plan for the future Auraria campus. His proposal to save historic parts of the Auraria neighborhood, including the Victorian houses along Ninth Street, the Tivoli brewery, St. Cajetan's Church and the former Episcopal church (now the Emmanuel Gallery), helped give Auraria much of the character it retains today.

Now, Prosser is on a mission to save another historic section of town -- and at the same time save the state from a potentially catastrophic plan. Many of his former students have signed on for the mission: to persuade the Colorado Department of Transportation to reroute I-70 rather than rebuild it across north Denver, where it bisected Globeville, Elyria and Swansea more than six decades ago. Although CDOT has already made changes to the replacement plan approved years ago -- including taking some of the highway underground, with a cap that will serve as a park -- critics are still concerned that in places the road will stretch the equivalent of ten lanes, and come very close to a school.

So they propose rerouting I-70, taking advantage of i-270 and I-76, then building a new East 46th Avenue at surface level to handle local traffic and provide a much grander entry into Denver.

Inviting people to today's summit, Prosser writes: "From our totally volunteer start up some three years ago, we have kept the CDOT's I-70 East issue always on a level playing field with no vested interests. Our consistent position has been to request a Supplemental EIS to assess the potential I-270/I-76 go around routing while returning existing 46th Avenue to the neighborhoods, including the National Western Complex, as a Denver 'City Beautiful' parkway boulevard. Over that three-year period there is amazingly strong and rapidly growing support of our proposal by twelve neighborhoods, INC, political entities, NGOs and scores of individuals."

Those individuals will be out in force today at the Oxford Hotel Grand Ballroom, 1637 Wazee Street. According to Dean Foreman, who's been instrumental in organizing the summit, about 175 people had already RSVPed for the program by yesterday, but there's still room to join them -- and if you can't stay for the entire program, you can go for part. During the first half of the program, the discussion will focus on "technical aspects of the highway, pollution issues, timing issues, cost issues, land-value issues," he says; Norquist and Lockwood will be speaking after 3 p.m.

To RSVP, go to thesummit@unitnorthmetrodenver.com.

From our archives: "My way for the highway -- plans to replace I-70 hit a rough patch."

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