Contractors received the green light Thursday night to continue exceeding nighttime noise limits for another year on the Interstate 70 expansion through northeast Denver.
Kiewit Infrastructure Co. in June had sought a noise variance renewal lasting more than three years — through late 2022, after the $1.2 billion Central 70 project’s expected completion. But the Denver Board of Public Health and Environment, which had granted an initial one-year variance last September, sided with urgings by the city health department and community activists to approve a much shorter term again.
The only question was how long.
The noisiest sustained work won’t start until later in 2020, when Kiewit demolishes and removes the 1.8-mile I-70 viaduct through Elyria-Swansea. Public health officials suggested extending the variance for 18 months, through early March 2021, to allow for review of the viaduct work’s impact when Kiewit seeks the next extension. Winter also is a less busy time for the noise-monitoring staff.
But a community coalition represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice asked the board to limit the renewal to just a year. After several speakers repeated that request, a city attorney said the health department would be OK with it.
The board took that option, voting 4-1 at 10:30 p.m.
Several community advocates credited city officials for listening to neighborhood concerns and Kiewit for following the noise mitigation requirements. A few neighbors, though, testified that the overnight noise from the controversial project had deprived them of sleep, heightened their stress levels and caused other issues.
More than 60 people attended the hearing at Swansea Recreation Center, and a recurring theme was the suggestion that the city develop standards for project-caused vibrations, in addition to noise.
The 10-mile Central 70 project includes the rebuilding of major portions of I-70 and the addition of a tolled express lane in each direction between Interstate 25 and Chambers Road in Aurora. The viaduct will be replaced by a below-grade trench that’s being dug next to the freeway.
Provided by Colorado Department of TransportationA rendering shows the section of an expanded Interstate 70 that will have a 4-acre cover on top.
On Thursday, the board also adopted a city staff recommendation to require multi-day breaks in a given area following a wider range of recurring loud activities than is mandated in the current variance.
Kiewit still will be required to offer hotel rooms to I-70 neighbors for certain operations, among myriad other requirements.
Several attendees who testified to the board Thursday focused on vibrations they attribute to project work — an issue some cities have begun regulating, alongside noise. Some worried the vibrations would crack foundations over time and had played a role in the disintegration of old pipes.
Raquel Casillas, whose family lives next to an off-ramp from I-70 in Swansea, described “vibration that has been so intense that at 3 a.m., my 3-year-old woke me up … to alert me to an earthquake we were having.”
“I have been woken up many times,” added Drew Dutcher, a community activist who lives within a block of the highway, too. “My bed is shaking, my walls are shaking. I live in a masonry house, and masonry doesn’t take vibration.”
Look for the issue to get more attention. The board’s appointees urged the health department to look at other cities’ approaches, including some in metro Denver, and study the effects more.
“I do want to say, while we are empathetic and sensitive to that issue, unfortunately, as of today, (vibration) doesn’t fall under the scope of what we have the purview of granting the variance for,” board member Genene Duran said. “What we can do is ask the department to look at the ordinances passed (elsewhere) … and report back to the board.”
Public health board chair Jim Rada cast the sole no vote, saying afterward that he favored the health department’s 18-month renewal recommendation.