An artist's concept of how I-70 could look after a long-planned overhaul: the roadway is wider, lowered below grade and covered in one section.

(Courtesy CDOT)

Posted 2:30 p.m. | Updated 3:30 p.m.

The Federal Highway Administration has approved a massive rebuild of Interstate 70 through north Denver, the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Thursday.

The $1.2 billion Central 70 project has been in the works for 14 years. The plan calls for the demolition of the aging viaduct that carries I-70 over the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.

The plan also calls for the roadway to be lowered below street level and widened from six lanes to 10 lanes over a 10-mile stretch from Interstate 25 to Chambers Road. A four-acre park would cap one section of the new trench near Swansea Elementary School.

"Today is a big day," CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt said at a press conference Thursday.

"We believe that we have followed the law and done everything that we need to do to come up with the best possible solution while reconnecting this neighborhood," he added.

But neighborhood groups, including the Cross Community Coalition, have filed a civil rights complaint against the project with the U.S. Department of Transportation. It claims the project would discriminate against residents of the neighborhood, which is 84 percent Latino and one of the city’s poorest. That challenge is still outstanding.

Candi CdeBaca, founder of Cross Community Coalition, said she was disappointed with the federal approval.

"Our civil rights or health don’t matter -- they’re not significant enough for them to wait for findings on," she said.

Federal officials say the challenges are not strong enough to warrant halting the project. CDOT maintains that it held hundreds of public meetings on the project over the last 14 years, and plans to address some concerns expressed at those meetings.

The agency says it will remodel part of the elementary school and contribute $2 million to affordable housing.

Construction is set to begin in 2018 and is expected take up to five years.