The period for public comment on the potential reconstruction of the Interstate 65/70 inner loop downtown has officially closed, but there’s clearly more to be said about a project that could be transformative for the city.
Now that the 50-year-old elevated highway has reached the end of its useful life, the Indiana Department of Transportation wants to replace it with a wider, redesigned network of elevated roads. Beginning with the north leg and portions of the loop’s east leg, INDOT would fill the berms within the existing right-of-way with additional lanes of traffic, replacing grass and trees with more concrete and erecting barrier walls in an attempt to mitigate the impact on adjacent neighborhoods.
We take INDOT at its word that all options remain on the table, but presentations the department gave at a public forum in late May left the impression that INDOT remains committed to widening the road and putting up walls.
It will require voices louder than the Rethink I-65/70 Coalition, which sprang up in opposition to INDOT’s plan, to persuade the state otherwise. Those louder voices should be coming from the Mayor’s Office and the downtown corporate community.
The coalition, which includes heavyweights like the Central Indiana Community Foundation and Indiana Landmarks, is still fighting an uphill battle in its quest to get the state to recognize the opportunity that will be wasted if the inner loop is simply replaced with a wider, newer road.
Some other cities that carved up their urban landscapes in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for interstates have since torn them down. They’ve either buried the roads, which is expensive, or replaced them with at-grade boulevards that take advantage of the traffic-mitigating effects of the urban street grid.
A boulevard system, one of the alternatives pushed by the coalition, would be cheaper than replacing the elevated roadway and would return developable land to the city’s tax base. For an idea of what a boulevard system with adjacent development might look like, think of West Street, which is immediately adjacent to the IUPUI campus and the JW Marriott hotel.
It’s difficult to believe either the campus or the city’s largest hotel would have been developed had West Street been replaced 50 years ago with an elevated highway.
Mayor Hogsett needs to be more visible on the issue if the same development potential is ever to be unlocked on the north, east and south edges of downtown. The mayor has written two letters in support of alternative approaches. Though the letters are welcome, we call on him to become the face of the Rethink 65/70 Coalition.
And we’d like to hear more from Cummins Inc., Eli Lilly and Co. and Salesforce, big employers that are typically strong advocates for quality-of-life initiatives.
Replacing the inner loop is clearly an opportunity to reimagine and improve quality of life downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, the very places these companies call home.
Indianapolis has always been at its best when city government and corporate leadership work together to get things done. It’s time for both to fully engage to make sure the opportunity before us isn’t lost.•
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