Key city highway to be closed for beautification project

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One the city’s vital arteries for logistics and commuting is scheduled to be blocked for 12 hours during the heart of the work day on Oct. 7.

For construction? A head of state? To clear a 50-car pileup?

Nope. It's for a beautification project.

The Indiana Department of Transportation has asked the Federal Highway Administration for permission to close all six lanes of Interstate 70 between the south split downtown and Interstate 465 to the west.

The closure is set to occur between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., during which the interstate’s empty lanes and five of its interchanges will be swarmed by about 9,100 volunteers participating in Eli Lilly and Co.’s Day of Service program.

That’s akin to dropping the entire population of Avon onto six miles of interstate.

Lilly and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful are leading the beautification project.

Last December, Lilly and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful volunteers installed artwork at the I-70/Holt Road interchange on the west side. The 34 pieces were designed by Kathryn Armstrong, a graduate student at Herron School of Art and Design, through the Basile Center for Art, Design and Public Life. Many have applauded the brightly-colored objects; those with other tastes have likened them to an attack of giant Chicklets from outer space.

The stretch of interstate is the main gateway to visitors coming downtown from Indianapolis International Airport.

“It has to rank up there as one of the most important six miles in the city,” said David Forsell, president of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. “To many people that route is Indianapolis’ front door.”

But, visually, it’s an eyesore, lined by warehouses, industrial properties and aging neighborhoods.

Forsell noted previously that improving the city’s front door route has long been a goal for city leaders. Perhaps the kick in the pants the city needed was landing the 2012 Super Bowl, which has generated heightened self-consciousness.

The beautification program planned for I-70 is known as “A Greener Welcome.”

“Rather than having dull and underappreciated space greet residents and visitors, a Greener Welcome will mean Indianapolis will soon have acres of native plants that will reduce mowing needs, enhance the landscape for bids and butterflies and soften the city’s hard edges,” said Carole Copeland, a spokeswoman for Lilly, in a prepared statement.

Public art will be installed at three interchanges. Planned for Harding Street are tall totems created by Jason Bord, a master of fine art sculpture student at Herron School of Art and Design.

The West Street interchange will sprout colorful lotus leaf forms designed by Shi-Fen Liu, another sculpture student at Herron.

Near Meridian Street, another eye-catching shape, of a ribonucleic acid molecule, will depict life evolving.  It was created by local sculptor Biagio Azzarelli.
“Public art will show the 100,000 motorists daily that Indianapolis appreciates its cultural life,” said Lilly’s Copeland.

INDOT’s I-70 closure request was published this month in the Federal Register.    

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking public comment until Aug. 2.

The filing states that about 5,600 volunteers will work on the north side of I-70 and 3,500 on the south side.

INDOT told the highway administration that a full closure of I-70 is the best way to ensure safety for the 9,100 volunteers and to thwart rubbernecking.

“The closure also provides additional safety to the motorists by eliminating the distraction that could be caused by the significant amount of workers within the interchanges and by eliminating the need for traffic restrictions in the actual workzone.”

The notice also states, “businesses requiring deliveries adjacent to the closed area will be encouraged to receive deliveries before or after the October 7 closure times in order to minimize these local impacts.”

INDOT says it has been working with business groups including the Indiana Motor Truck Association and the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

“They’ve been very forthcoming," said Tisha Terry, executive vice president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association. "We started, I’d say, nearly three months ago” on the planning."

The association has also been in communication with counterparts in others states to alert trucking companies elsewhere to plan in advance. “We are the Crossroads of America, after all,” Terry said.

Besides interstate truck traffic are numerous firms making local deliveries that will need to find other routes on city streets. Planning is more involved than it sounds, said Terry, with police agencies needing to designate an inside lane on I-70 for emergency vehicles to use, for example.

“I’m sure there will be some logistics issues but the outcome will be positive for the city of Indianapolis,” Terry added.

INDOT did not disclose the nature of the beautification, but says five interchanges and about 10 acres will be affected.

Forsell said the work will involve additional artwork and landscaping. “It’s like adding a nature park to the landscape of our city” that’s visible to motorists “and hopefully lifts their spirits.”

More details of the project will be disclosed over the next few months.

Excluding Holt, which received a makeover in December, there are interchanges at I-65, McCarty, West and Harding streets and at Sam Jones Expressway.

The I-465 interchange at I-70 is off limits as INDOT is reconstructing and reconfiguring that section.

 I-70 through-traffic will be re-routed onto I-465 south of the city. That should add about two minutes to three minutes to travel time, said the Federal Highway Administration, calling it a “negligible impact to interstate commerce.”

 INDOT plans additional “Hoosier Helper” freeway service patrols along I-465 during the event.






  • Front door to Indy?
    Yeah, right. People in this city are so provincial that it isn't even funny. Not everyone coming here arrives on that route.

    What they should do is install some massive soundwalls to block the view of our embarrassing assortment of trailer parks and clapboard shacks.
  • road care
    The intent is good but the State and City are horrible about maintaining our roads. Many of the new interchanges on the northwest side have high weeds and damaged curbs. After the City spent millions of dollars on the 38th St. beautification project it now is overgrown with weeds. Many of the City's bridges have weeds growing in the sidewalks and pavement. Why do we keep spending these dollars if neither the State or City will maintain these roads properly. With all the visitors to the City this summer the lack of maintenance is embarassing. Other States and Cities do a lot better jobs.
  • if you do what you've always done...
    you'll get what you always get. I like this idea. It fully owns a solution instead of trying to make a change from the margins. And I think they've learned some lessons by having this in the fall--that's the best time to put plants in the ground. Go cats go.
  • Really?
    If the Holt Rd exit is any indication of what the rest will look like, then this is not a beautification project. No offense to the volunteers doing the work, but what some consider artwork is less than desireable for MANY others. I seriously thought there was trash on the side of the road when they were first isntalled. I think closing the entire interstate is a bit ridiculous, but whatever, I'm more concerned with the artwork being inconsistant and oddly placed. The Holt Rd area isn't maintained and just doesn't fit the area. Plant some trees and appealing/low maintenance vegetation for better appeal.
  • No Mow Strategy
    My understanding is that the area that you think looks neglected actually is a now mow area. It reduces costs to INDOT for fuel, reduces need for fuel and the pollution associated with those big mowers. Keep up the good work Lilly and KIB!
  • Needed upgade
    Closing an interstate is a big deal, but the massive size of this project requires outside the box thinking. I thought we were crazy when we shut down the interstate for the hyper-fix project & that was several days, not 12 hours. We have a great city, but the drive into downtown from the airport is an embarrassment, so if 9,000+ volunteers can make a difference, let's figure out how to get around for that day & judge the results when they are finished. First impressions are lasting and thankfully Indy has organizations that care about the appearance of our city.
  • 70 & Holt An Eyesore
    The giant gumdrops on the 70 & Holt are certainly not bright and the grass is mowed in a perimeter around them. Leaving a real eyesore. Certainly not beautiful.
    • Follow-up
      Too bad they don't go back and remove all the dead trees that they planted along Harding Street a couple of years ago.
      I guess they died from lack of maintenance.
    • Safer?
      I'm sure this idea makes it safer for the volunteers but does it really make it safer for those residents, commuters, and school bus riders on the local streets where the diverted traffic will end up? Can you imagine semi trucks and vacationers alike crawling through unfamiliar streets...???

      It's a great project idea, it's great that thousands are willing to donate their time and energy, but everyone should be safe, not just the "beautifiers."
    • I-70 Improvements
      It seems to me the last time anyone paid attention to last years project on West I-70 and Holt was when the improvements were installed. The last I saw the area it was overgrown and looked much worse that if nothing had been done. Don't keep making thing "Pretty" if you can't maintain what you have previously done.
    • Get over it
      It's one day, not the end of the world. Im looking forward to this improvement.
    • Good intention / Bad idea
      Really? It's a good idea to close the "Crossroads of America?" I'm sure this will make a great impression on the thousands of people it will affect. Millions of miles of highway construction are done with delays, interruptions, and one-lane closures but this at least allows people to continue on their route as opposed to dumping local, state, and cross-crountry travelers onto smaller streets and roads.

      I love the idea of art and beautification but not sure this is the best way to go about it.
    • Thursday???
      Lessee - there's a major school bus terminal near Harding Street Exit, some 200 buses between when? 5:30 and 7:00! And some coming back to

      Washington and Key Learning (old 47)... and then again starting at 1:30, they all leave again to take kids home... Not to mention the truly huge volume of commuters, and both through and delivery trucks... The only section of I-70 that would be WORSE would be the OTHER six miles east of downtown...
    • Saturday
      Closing the interstate on a weekend causes more chaos and frustration for cross-state travel from out of towners and for weekend events. Since they are not connected to a messaging system like the truckers are - they don't have a good way of knowing in advance that it will be closed. Also, based on a traffic count report on INDOT's website - Thursday on I-70 during those hours has less traffic than a Saturday or any other day of the week.
    • Saturday?
      They could not do this on a Saturday when there would be less traffic??????????? These people must all live on the north side of town.

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