After 14 years of planning and numerous stops and starts on the controversial project, the $1.2- billion expansion of Interstate 70 through Denver now can move forward.

The Federal Highway Administration on Jan. 19 gave final approval to the project’s record of decision (ROD), allowing the Colorado Dept. of Transportation to seek bids from the four short-listed teams in a complex public-private partnership.

The Central 70 Project will reconstruct and lower a 10-mile stretch of the freeway north and east of the city. Further, it will add a tolled express lane in each direction, demolish a 53-year-old viaduct and, to allow construction of a park and sports field, place a four-acre concrete cap over a portion of the lowered highway. CDOT says construction will begin in early 2018. The freeway section carries up to 220,000 vehicles a day but was designed for far less traffic.

The ROD “allows us to move forward on fulfilling neighborhood commitments, rather than just talking about them,” says Rebecca White, CDOT spokeswoman.

The project will displace 56 residential properties and 17 area businesses. As a result, one neighborhood group has filed a federal civil-rights complaint, and other legal challenges are possible. Neighborhood groups claim that CDOT did not fully investigate other alternatives to the expansion, such as realigning the highway along the I-76 corridor farther to the north.

“The Central 70 Project redefines the role of I-70 in local communities, which were originally divided by the Interstate 50 years ago,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT executive director, in a statement.

Nearly half of CDOT’s property acquisitions are done, all voluntarily, White says. “Like most agencies, we will use eminent domain only as a last resort,” she says.