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Hogsett backs Rethink I-65/I-70's position on north-split project

June 8, 2018

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who in January expressed his concerns about the Indiana Department of Transportation’s planned north-split project, has gotten more specific about the approach he hopes INDOT will take.

Last fall, INDOT revealed its preliminary plans to rebuild the I-65/I-70 interchange in the northeast part of downtown, known as the north split. The plan, estimated to cost $250 million, would add lanes on both interstates, widening some bridges and adding others, and reconfiguring the I-65 exit and entrance ramps along 11th and 12th streets. INDOT says the work is urgently needed because the existing infrastructure is beyond its useful life.

In January, a coalition of community leaders and downtown residents called Rethink I-65/I-70 began expressing concern about the project’s impact to downtown neighborhoods and urging INDOT to explore alternative designs. Hogsett and the Indy Chamber also issued their own statements expressing similar views.

At a City-County Council public works committee meeting Thursday night, Rethink I-65/I-70 delivered a presentation in which it urged INDOT to stabilize the existing north split, buying time that could be used to develop a comprehensive downtown transportation plan. 

As part of that meeting, Councilor Zach Adamson read a letter from Hogsett that echoed the Rethink coalition’s points.

“The mayor essentially adopts our position,” said Rethink member Paul Knapp.

Hogsett’s letter was addressed to Kia Gillette, a North Split project manager who works for INDOT contractor HNTB Corp.

The letter said, in part, “I urge INDOT to minimize harm to downtown neighborhoods while striving ‘to maintain the existing interchange in a safe, functioning condition.’ As the design process unfolds over the next several months, I will ask INDOT to keep the interstate within the existing road bed; make necessary bridge repairs to address valid safety concerns; make short-term repairs to allow further exploration of the long-term system-wide concepts; and build a project that does not preclude further construction of those concepts.”

Knapp said the Rethink coalition had not known about the Hogsett letter before last night’s meeting, but said coalition members have had numerous meetings with city officials in recent months.

One thing the coalition hasn’t yet been able to do, Knapp said, is to convince Gov. Eric Holcomb to get involved with the issue.

In response to public concerns, INDOT took time to conduct what it called a system-level analysis of seven options for addressing the north split and downtown interstate traffic in general. The options ranged from maintaining the existing infrastructure to transforming existing stretches of interstate into boulevards and/or tunnels. Though INDOT hasn’t yet decided on an alternative, the results of its analysis showed that adding lanes to the north split would be the most cost-effective way to move traffic through downtown. 

Knapp said the Rethink wants the process to include consideration of additional factors, including economic and quality-of-life issues, before any final decisions are made. 

“That’s our big challenge, is to get the Governor to see it that way,” Knapp said. “To date, our efforts to even speak with the Governor have been put off. He keeps directing us to INDOT—and INDOT’s mission is to build highways.”

Knapp said the coalition continues its efforts to share its views with elected officials. “We’re really not the enemy of INDOT. It’s just that these issues are bigger than INDOT. We need other entities of state government involved.”

Holcomb’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Wilson, told IBJ late Friday morning that she was working on a response to the coalition’s comments.

INDOT did not respond to an IBJ query Friday morning. 

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