DENVER - A proposed highway expansion into a predominately Latino population has sparked civil rights backlash.
A civil rights complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation by environmental group Earthjustice on behalf of residents in northeast Denver's Elyria-Swansea neighborhood.
Candi CdeBaca, a Swansea resident, has been fighting against I-70 expanding into her neighborhood for more than a decade.
The neighborhood is 84 percent Latino and residents worry about the health effects associated with increased traffic that the Colorado Department of Transportation’s $1.2 billion highway expansion project will allow.
“The people who are being affected by this expansion have some of the lowest levels of education, lowest levels of political, financial and social capital,” CdeBaca said.
A lawsuit filed in federal court by the group Sierra Club calls into question new EPA quality standards that allowed the project to move forward. That was the community's first line of defense. Now they're also crying foul when it comes to civil rights.
CdeBaca and her neighbors are also worried about the 56 homes CDOT will acquire to widen the highway.
“The number is 56 homes, but there are multiple businesses. One of the businesses is a motel that's used as housing. So that takes the number of households to about 90 households that will be affected,” CdeBaca said.
CDOT says it's addressing these issues. Spokesperson Rebecca White says acquiring property is one of the toughest actions CDOT takes.
“So when we acquire a property and someone chooses a new place to go it more often than not, given Denver's housing market, that place is more expensive," White said. "So we have a federal requirement to make up that difference and we do that for renters as well."
In addition, CDOT will contribute $2 million to address affordable housing in northeast Denver. It will provide air conditioning units and storm windows for homes closest to the highway, those that'll inevitably feel the effects of highway construction.
CDOT stands by years of air quality testing. It’s also building a massive park to improve the community image.
“The four acre cover. So that is essentially a park that will be built over I-70. About 20 cities around the nation have done these and they are wonderful vibrant spaces,” said White.
But many in the neighborhood are still afraid of how the project will affect them.
“We are talking about issues that are basically the new face of colonization," CdeBaca said. "People are being pushed out and we are trying to protect, water land, people."
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