Key road projects await busy INDOT

The bad news for Interstate 465 motorists is that the ongoing rehab of the 50-mile loop will continue to be the biggest highway project in the metro area in 2011.

The good news is that the rebuilding of an 11-mile segment on the west side could be all but finished by the end of the year—just when other significant highway projects will get under way in the metro area.

Officially, INDOT had set 2012 for completion of the $550 million, west-side project “Accelerate 465,” which stretches from roughly Interstate 70 on the south to 56th Street in the north. But key areas have been completed, such as between 34th Street and 56th Street.

For a closer look at INDOT's construction projects, click here.

“INDOT’s contractors are on track to wrap up early, but there’s still much left to be completed,” said Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation. He said work is still ongoing at key interchanges, such as Sam Jones Expressway and Interstate 70, and that some of the west-side project could spill over into early 2012.

INDOT since 2008 has been rebuilding and reconfiguring most every interchange of I-465 on the west side. They were among the first-built sections of the 1960s-era loop. The changes are to improve traffic flow and safety.

Some of the new design features will take some getting used to. Southbound I-465 motorists who had taken the Sam Jones Expressway shortcut to get to I-70 eastbound will for the first time encounter a traffic signal at Sam Jones.

INDOT says not having to rebuild the existing flyover ramp that makes for the popular shortcut saves millions of dollars. It points out that it is reconfiguring and improving the I-70 interchange about a mile south. Congestion will be eased there by adding a collector distributor lane.

Such collector/distributor lanes, which separate merging traffic from vehicles already on the road, are a staple of INDOT’s attempts to improve I-465 citywide. INDOT says the lanes improve efficiency and safety.

Collector/distributors are being used more extensively around the country as traffic increases and pressure builds for more frequent interstate access points, said Joe Brand, a vice president of engineering at giant HNTB, in Overland Park, Kansas. Brand’s team at HNTB has been designing a complex collector/distributor network where interstates 435 and 35 intersect in suburban Kansas City.

The idea is to separate through-traffic from vehicles getting on and off the interstates. Otherwise, “there’s a lot of weaving that goes on … at some point [traffic flow] breaks down,” Brand said.

INDOT has been scrambling to improve the capacity of its urban interstates, particularly as sprawl continues to move outward to the northeast. There, INDOT plans to spend more than $335 million between now and 2015 rebuilding the I-465/I-69 interchange and its surroundings.

It has already widened and rebuilt a couple of miles of I-465 from just west of College Avenue to White River. In the spring, INDOT plans to let work to replace the 75th Street bridge over I-465. That bridge replacement will allow room to widen the interstate in a few years. That widening project will also accommodate a new ramp to I-69 north.

By 2014, construction will start on a reconfigured I-465/I-69 interchange, one sporting new flyover ramps and a collector/distributor system to ease traffic snarls during rush hour.

For now, work proceeds eastward on I-465 itself. In 2011, the 82nd Street bridge over I-465 in Castleton will be rebuilt. The new bridge piers will accommodate additional lanes for I-465, from roughly White River east and then south, to Fall Creek.

Work will also intensify in 2011 on a new Keystone Avenue interchange at I-465. As part of that, INDOT contractors will add an additional lane of traffic on north- and southbound Keystone, between I-465 and 98th Street. Work will start next year on the next interchange to be improved, Allisonville Road at I-465.

Work on I-69 north of I-465 isn’t to start in earnest for about three more years. But INDOT announced in December it will expedite a “strategic fix” for an area of I-69 at the congested 116th Street/State Road 37 interchange.

Dubbed “Operation Indy Commute,” INDOT plans to design a new ramp system that could be built in 2012. Last-minute merging from I-69 north to the 116th/S.R. 37 exit has resulted in numerous collisions in recent years. Building a collector/distributor separated from I-69 by a concrete barrier would seem to be one potential solution to foil last-minute merging, but INDOT won’t say exactly what it has in mind for the infamous interchange.

“Potential solutions are just now being evaluated at this location,” Wingfield said.

The other so-called strategic fix INDOT announced in December was the hiring of Indianapolis-based American Structurepoint to design two new ramps for the I-465/I-65 interchange on the south side.

The estimated $36 million fix—for I-65 north to I-465 east, and I-465 west to I-65 south ramps—will allow for two lanes of traffic moving at higher speed, INDOT said.

Also on the south side, INDOT in 2011 plans to upgrade ramps at I-465 and S.R. 37, which is now clogged with heavy truck traffic. That work will also involve improved traffic signal timing.

Another major interstate project to ramp up in 2011 involves adding one new lane in each direction to I-70 between Post Road and Mount Comfort Road.

U.S. 31 work

Interstates aren’t the only focus in 2011.

The 146th Street bridge over U.S. 31, at the border of Carmel and Westfield, will be widened in preparation for eventually creating an interchange there. INDOT over the next several years will upgrade U.S. 31 to freeway standards, from I-465 north to State Road 38.

Work could begin next year on the proposed interchange at S.R. 38. A number of other interchanges are planned in Carmel, including one at Range Line Road.•

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