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.