Effort underway to ensure at least one-fifth of I-70 construction jobs go to local residents

“The Central 70 Project is, by itself, a major economic driver for the entire Denver-metro region. CDOT wanted to also ensure that these economic and job opportunities were made available to local residents,” Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director, said in a statement

POITRA Visual photosimulation services -- I-70 East EIS Project

POITRA Visual photosimulation services (www.poitra.com) for ATKINS and CDOT. I-70 East EIS - Phase 1 of the Final EIS Preferred Alternative (Partial Cover Lowered Alternative) Photo-Simulation. Visualization for Impact Study of Alternatives. Denver, CO, CDOT. I-70 East Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Project.

ROUGH ROAD AHEAD: Big I-70 project through Aurora aims to accommodate, though
20170307-I-70-Aurora, Colorado

Traffic goes west on I-70 on Tuesday March 07, 2017 at I-70 and I-225. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that the project would take 30 years to complete. Construction is estimated to take between 3-4 years, but the project itself will have maintenance and other components lasting 30 years, officials said.

AURORA | Interstate 70 construction officials are keeping at least some of the jobs local in the move to get part of the iconic highway underground.

The Central 70 construction project will restructure I-70 from I-25 to Chambers Road, including moving some portions underground near Colorado Boulevard. The massive project must hire 20 percent of the project’s employees from neighborhoods surrounding the construction zone — home to many poorer neighborhoods — while favoring small and disadvantaged businesses.

“The Central 70 Project is, by itself, a major economic driver for the entire Denver-metro region. CDOT wanted to also ensure that these economic and job opportunities were made available to local residents,” Shailen Bhatt, CDOT Executive Director, said in a statement. The project is expected to cost $1.7 billion and take 3-4 years to complete. Some maintenance jobs, however, could continue for decades.

The local hiring will include neighborhoods along the I-70 corridor as far west as Federal Boulevard and as far east as Denver International Airport. Officials have outlined $1.17 billion for initial phases of the project.

Neighborhoods include: Chaffee Park, Clayton, Cole, East Colfax, Monteview Park, Elyria/Swansea, Five Points, Globeville, Green Valley Ranch, Montbello, North Aurora, Northeast Park Hill, South Commerce City, Stapleton, Sunnyside and Whittier.

Local residents will include anyone that can prove residence in one of these neighborhoods, even if they just moved there. It also qualifies residents who moved out of the one of the neighborhoods in the last six months. Rebecca White, communications manager for the project, said they added a “look-back” qualification for long-time residents who were recently forced to move because of rising housing costs in many of the targeted hiring zones.

Hiring will be decided by one development team, who will be also be responsible for the entire project. The teams will utilize small and disadvantaged companies to boost the local economy. They will cover the design, construction, operations and maintenance of the project. There are currently four teams competing for the project. CDOT will choose the company from their technical and financial proposals after August.

The 20 percent local-hiring quota isn’t a limit, officials said.

“We will be absolutely delighted if (the company chosen) hires more than the 20 percent,” White said.

The project will provide employment opportunities ranging from skilled craft positions to administrative support.

CDOT also created a career training and resource center to provide training to help local residents qualify for the construction jobs when the project begins. The center opened on July 6 at 3600 E. 46th Ave. in Globeville, to make it more accessible for residents in the neighborhood.

“Having that physical location in the neighborhood adds that extra convenience,” White said.

The training center will teach: Construction careers with OSHA training, highway craft basics, basics of erosion control, highway flagging, heavy equipment, civil structure construction and guardrail maintenance and repair.

CDOT partnered with the Associated General Contractors, Emily Griffith Technical College Community College of Denver and Colorado Contractors Association to provide the classroom and hands on training opportunities.

This On-The-Job Training is an official U.S. Department of Transportation program to move women, minorities and disadvantaged individuals into journeymen-level positions to ensure that a competent workforce is available to meet highway construction hiring need and to address the historical under-representation of these groups in highway construction skilled crafts, according to the CDOT website.

This “special permission” was granted by the Federal Highway Administration as a part of a new pilot program by the U.S. Transportation Department to support local hiring. It is usually prohibited to use federal funds to selectively hire locally, but Colorado was chosen as one of nine projects nationally to pilot the program.

“We are really excited to pilot it for the project,” White said.

Another partner of the project is Gary Community Investments, a company that invested more than $1 million in job training and support programs. This marked the first time CDOT has partnered with a private foundation. This partnership also supports local residents that need help with transportation and childcare while at work.

“GCI takes a two-generation approach to investing that includes helping low-income families increase their financial security,” says Dave Younggren, President & CEO of GCI. “We are proud to partner with CCD, CDOT and others who are working hard to ensure that residents living along the I-70 corridor benefit from the economic development happening around them. By providing access to job training and support services, this program will help local families increase their earning potential, which will positively impact their children’s education, health and future economic outcomes.”

If you’re interested in getting a local job and the training program visit BuildColorado.com.