Freeways here, freeways there, freeways everywhere.

Interstate 70 is scheduled to begin a four to six year rebuild early next year.  The rebuild will stretch from the I-25/I-70 interchange (known to the natives as “The Mousetrap”) to Chambers road just East of I-225 in Aurora.  This will expand the freeway to an eventual five lanes in each direction, more than doubling the footprint in many areas.  The build will include multi-directional express lanes and a three block tunnel under a new park.  This is not the first time Denver has proposed drastic freeway ideas.

The 1960s were an interesting time from us cities, and not in a great way.  It is common knowledge that most cities leveled block after block of buildings and put up grand boulevards of eight lanes to bring the all superior auto into the downtown from the suburbs.  Most of these freeways were put up through what was described as urban blight, and while there were a number of abandoned buildings that were demolished in the name of progress, they also cut through impoverished neighborhoods and displaced tens of thousands of people.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that Denver tried to do the same thing.  In a couple of areas freeways were constructed and siplaced people, such as I-70 through the Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville neighborhoods (we’ll discuss that in a minute), but Denver’s master plan for expressways was much more intensive.

During the 60s, there were a number of proposals for new expressways.  These included the Skyline Freeway from Commerce City to Morrison, the Hampden Freeway through Englewood, the Columbine Freeway which would have gone up Santa Fe, Downing, and Park Avenue West before leaving Denver via North Pecos Street, the Mountain Freeway which would have replaced all of Alameda, and The Quebec Freeway from I-70 all the way to I-25.

denver-1960s-proposed-freeways

This map details where exactly they all would have gone.  The sheer number of them is staggering.  Imagine having five different freeways from I-25 to I-225.  Traffic might not be an issue getting into downtown, but what downtown would be left when you got there?  For this post, we are going to take a look at the one that got closest to actually being built, the Skyline Freeway.

In 1967, then Denver mayor Tom Currigan convinced the Denver voters to approve a plan to build the Skyline freeway.  Starting where Vasquez meets I-70, this freeways would have cut downtown Denver in half, leveling nearly all of present day LoDo.  After crossing Colfax at I-25, it would have cut through the Sun Valley and Villa Park neighborhoods before replacing Morrison avenue and going all the way past C470 (which at the time, was also another proposed freeway).

The footprint would have been incredible.  Here are a couple of photos which show the alignment through downtown:

skyline-freeway

proposed-denver-freeway

skyline-and-union-station

If you are not sure what you are looking at, the middle photo above shows the interchanges for Speer Boulevard as well as 15th, 16th, and 17th streets.  As you can see from the photos, everything between Blake and Larimer Streets is gone. Market Street wouldn’t exist anymore had this come to fruition.  Entrance and exit ramps would be where Coors field is now.  The Pepsi Center wouldn’t exist.  Larimer square would be long gone. Union Station was to be razed for parking.

skyline-renewal-sign

denver-mining-exchange

A large number of historic structures were demolished to prepare for the freeway, such as the Denver Mining Exchange shown above.  The proposal called for a number of parks and public housing units to be built along both sides of the freeway. So how close did it actually come to being built?  In 1967 Denver voters approved the plan and demolition began.  The city leveled 27 blocks to prepare for the freeway.  It is rather ironic that the logo of the project is Denver’s historic clock tower since they were tearing everything else down.

While the Skyline Freeway obviously never was constructed, many different parts of the project were carried out, including Denver’s Skyline Park and the leveling of the entire Auraria neighborhood to make way for the Auraria Campus.  In our next post we’ll look at another freeway proposal which is taking place right now, the I-70 rebuild and an alternative which is being pushed by a number of citizens and neighborhood groups.

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