DENVER — Former President Bill Clinton was here in the Mile High City yesterday for the Clinton Global Initiative America conference, where he said that businesses and other organizations can do more to hire and invest in struggling American workers.
He was welcomed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a fellow Democrat. Hickenlooper, who famously prefers not to wear a necktie when speaking to the public, greeted the former president wearing an appropriately blue shirt, a good-looking suit, and a necktie. So Clinton couldn’t resist a gentle ribbing of the governor. “I felt almost guilty that he felt constrained to wear a suit today,” Clinton said. “But he looked really nice in it.”
What The Denver Post, reporting on Clinton’s speech, failed to say was that, at the urging of a solitary reporter, the former president told Hickenlooper to abandon his support for a long-brewing plan by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to add four lanes to Interstate 70 in the heart of Denver’s interstate transportation corridor.
In January, the newly re-elected governor tapped 39-year old Shailen Bhatt, a former associate administrator at the Federal Highway Administration, to lead CDOT. Before he was confirmed as the executive director of CDOT, Bhatt said,“Widening roads all the time is just a 20th century mindset. You have to be open to new and smarter ways to use dollars."
Between Brighton Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard in Denver, a distance of two miles, traffic on I-70 travels over a bridge which was built in the 1960s. The bridge cut off an impoverished area of North Denver, Globeville-Elyria-Swansea, from the rest of Denver. Globeville-Elyria-Swansea is populated largely by ethnic minorities. CDOT wants to destroy fifty homes, numerous businesses, remove the aging bridge, and replace it with a below-grade highway the length of a football field, expand the highway from six lanes to ten lanes, and then cap and cover the highway. However, the CDOT plan would cause significant pollution for the immediately adjacent and underserved neighborhoods, including two elementary schools which are within 500 feet of the proposed expanded highway. CDOT does not have the money to complete the project. Denver’s Auditor, Dennis Gallagher, has called the CDOT plan a boondoggle, noting that millennials and other sensible motorists are driving less, so a ten-lane interstate highway straight through Denver is not really needed. A band of dedicated activists, including the solitary reporter, opposes the CDOT plan, and suggests that I-70 be rerouted along I-270 and I-76 (an additional two miles), but Adams County, a suburban county immediately to the north of Denver, opposes the reroute.
President Clinton, a damn smart politician if ever there was one, knows that his wife will be campaigning on platforms closely akin to those of the American component of the Clinton Global Initiative; and he knows full well that the reroute option would save CDOT millions of dollars that it could easily spend repairing roads and bridges elsewhere in the Centennial State — a swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
As the solitary reporter looked on, Hickenlooper, who was an innovative brewpub owner in Lower Downtown Denver before he served as Denver’s mayor from 2003 to 2011, paused for a moment, and concluded that he really wants to see Hillary Clinton succeed President Obama. After tugging in evident anxiety on his unfamiliar necktie for a moment, he told the conference that he has instructed Bhatt to scrap the I-70 East Project in favor of the reroute. “I know that Adams County won’t like it,” the governor said, “but they are just as fixated on development as we are here in Denver. Not only that, they drink a lot of beer in Adams County, so I’ll go down to the brewery I used to own and send several truckloads of Wynkoop’s best up there. They’ll love it.”