‘High tension, anger’ expected as Denver weighs plan for noisy overnight work on I-70

A construction worker with Kiewit Meridiam Partners, the contractor on the I-70 expansion through Denver, leads a tour on Sept. 4 of the new, painted sound barrier installed to limit noise pollution in residential areas along the highway. (Photo by Alex Burness)

The contractor on the I-70 expansion through Denver is hoping a new sound barrier and a shorter construction timeline will appease the politicians and community members who earlier this summer fought against a proposal for round-the-clock work on the highway — and all the noise and pollution that comes with it.

In order to complete the $1.2 billion, 10-mile project on time — that is, by 2023 — the project’s contractor, Omaha-based Kiewit Meridiam Partners, says it needs to work overnight, tearing up roads and bridges and, in so doing, whipping up dust and sound that, according to the National Institutes of Health, will top out at levels known to induce hearing loss.

Kiewit submitted a proposal in July for permission from the Denver Board of Public Health and Environment to do construction 24 hours a day for the next five and a half years. Approval would have allowed for work Monday to Friday from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekends. The company promised noise levels would not exceed an average of 75 decibels, which is slightly louder than a vacuum cleaner, or a maximum of 86 decibels.

The request was widely panned by politicians and community members alike, and so Kiewit pulled the pitch and delayed a hearing before the board.

Tomorrow, they’ll return with a new proposal and a public hearing before the board.

There are two key differences between the old, pulled proposal, and the new one:

  • Kiewit has added plans for 7,000 feet of 12-foot wall made of plywood, meant to act as a sound barrier for residential areas of Elyria-Swansea. About 700 feet are already up, and covered in murals, next to Swansea Elementary. The wall does not eliminate noise pollution, but it does limit it.
  • Kiewit has reduced, from 65 months to 55 months, the timeline for the nighttime construction allowance it seeks.

Matt Sanman, a spokesman for Kiewit, said the changes in the proposal are a reflection of “our involvement with the community and helping them understand what we’re doing and some of the adjustments we’ve made to coordinate and be good neighbors with them.”

But a community meeting Tuesday night in Elyria-Swansea highlighted the fact that many residents still harbor concerns, and plan to show up in force to voice them at the board’s public hearing.

Several residents complained about transparency and said they don’t feel comfortable with the current plan, which includes language stating Kiewit “may” — as opposed to “will” — perform certain tasks. For example, the latest proposal states that “unrestricted noise activity may not occur for more than 30 aggregate nighttime hours over the course of three consecutive nights.” Attendees asked for the ongoing audits of Kiewit’s performance to be made public.

The meeting was the first for a new working group convened by City Councilman Albus Brooks, who represents part of the affected areas, which run from Brighton Boulevard in Denver to Chambers Road in Aurora. Elyria-Swansea will be most affected, but residents are also concerned in the nearby Globeville, upper Park Hill, Cole and Clayton neighborhoods.

The group includes representatives of the Colorado Department of Transportation, Kiewit, the offices of Brooks and Councilwoman Debbie Ortega and about 10 residents.

Brooks said the working group will strive to “keep the contractor up to task on everything they’re committed to.”

He urged people to show up to the public hearing.

“There’s going to be a lot of high tension, anger,” he said, “and that’s good, because that means you care about the community.”

Much of the discussion at the working group meeting centered on how, exactly, people will be able to keep Kiewit to its promises.

Brooks urged everyone in attendance to download a sound meter smartphone app that allows users to monitor decibel levels. There will be a 24-hour hotline set up for people to call with complaints about excessive noise, or anything else. Residents asked that a record of all the calls to the hotline also be made public.

The board will meet tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in the 3rd floor Parr Widener Room in the City and County Building at 1437 Bannock St. The boardroom can hold about 80 people, and is expected to fill up, so those seeking to offer public comment are encouraged to show up early.

1 COMMENT

  1. I lived in City Park West for ten years and just sold a rental there last year.
    Here’s the deal…this project has been in the works for more than fifteen years. I know because I was on one of the neighborhood boards that originally got to see some of the preliminary planning docs in the early 2000’s.

    Therefore…and this is going to be a tough pill for some folks to swallow…if you have lived in the neighborhoods surrounding this upcoming clusterfwck for less than 15-20 years…then you really don’t have a credible position from which to whine about it. That’s because you chose to rent or buy in an area that has had this construction on the agenda before you arrived. If you didn’t do your due diligence…that’s on you, no? It’s certainly not the job of the contractors or the city to make you aware of it before you settled there.

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