The Stop-n-Shop store on East 46th Avenue sits beside the Interstate 70 viaduct, which divides Denver’s Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods.
The Stop-n-Shop store on East 46th Avenue sits beside the Interstate 70 viaduct, which divides Denver's Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods. (Craig F. Walker, Denver Post file)

A complete destruction of the aging, crowded viaduct that divides the Elyria and Swansea neighborhoods and the running of Interstate 70 under a two-block deck is quickly gaining ground among state and federal highway planners.

They have ordered a rewrite of the draft environmental-impact statement that serves as a blueprint for future improvements along the east I-70 corridor from Brighton Boulevard to Tower Road.

The redrafting will consider the deck idea, which quickly gained the backing of many residents of the two neighborhoods, said Don Hunt, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

"Over the past few weeks, we've heard a lot of support for the new alternative, so we are going to proceed with the engineering, analysis and planning work necessary to turn this into a viable alternative for consideration in the EIS," Hunt said.

Officials point out that the deck proposal has not been picked as the design CDOT will use for the highway.

"There is no preferred alternative at this point," CDOT spokeswoman Mindy Crane said.

A plan should be picked by the end of the two-year process it takes to draft an EIS, Crane said. In the meantime, there will be several public hearings for people to voice opinions on what should be built.

The new plan calls for tearing down the viaduct, rebuilding I-70 about 30 feet below ground with five lanes in each direction and placing a deck about two blocks long over the freeway at Swansea Elementary. The so-called cap over the highway could serve as a park or open green space, CDOT says.

It also will cost about $917 million, Crane said, which is about $150 million above the original idea of realigning the viaduct.

But neighbors loathed the prospect of expanding the viaduct north or south. Any viaduct realignment would lead to the destruction of several neighborhoods as well as Swansea Elementary School and the nearby Purina pet food plant and the jobs it provides.

Their protests led CDOT to reconsider the deck idea, which was first proposed early in the nine-year planning process for east I-70 but discarded over concerns about cost and groundwater contamination.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he appreciates CDOT's willingness to rethink its plans.

"I want to thank CDOT for its willingness to take stakeholder input to heart and consider this alternative," Hancock said.

Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907 or mwhaley@denverpost.com