Paul Knapp: Let’s boost connectivity, economic development

DEBATE QWhat should happen to Indy’s downtown interstate system?

KnappThere is no dispute about the need to rebuild the aging I-65/70 North Split, with its crumbling overpasses and hazardous configurations for merging, entering and exiting near the interchange. What is under debate is how the rebuild will affect the future reconstruction of the interstates that connect to the North Split on the north, east and south sides of downtown.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past and rethink how to rebuild the interstate so it accomplishes INDOT’s goals of traffic management as well as the community’s desire to create connectivity, mobility and economic development for future generations.

To put it into perspective, the rebuilding of the North Split and the connected interstate loop around downtown can have the same transformative impact on Indianapolis as the construction of Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, and the midfield terminal at Indianapolis International Airport.

Imagine if the 50-year-old interstates were not elevated, but depressed below grade, with parks above to connect growing neighborhoods, or perhaps spanned by bridges that support storefronts and sidewalk cafes. This is already being done in other cities, such as Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, and Dallas—with many other cities considering similar options.

I am a member of the Rethink 65/70 Coalition, made up of a growing number of local businesses, community organizations, residents, architects and urban planners who have called upon INDOT to rethink its plans to rebuild the North Split. These plans include widening the interstate to the edge of the state’s right-of-way, removing grass berms and trees that buffer the highway, and adding 30-foot retaining walls that will create a visual and physical barrier around our capital city.

While INDOT did spend some time evaluating seven alternatives for the reconstruction, it now appears poised to move ahead rapidly with the reconstruction of the interchange.

The Coalition has asked INDOT to adhere to these criteria in developing a final plan:

◗ No above-grade walls along the north, east and south legs of I-65, I-65/70 and I-70.

◗ No expansion of the existing number of above-grade through-lanes along the north, east, and south.

◗ Increased connectivity of neighborhoods and areas of commerce divided by the interstates.

◗ Increased opportunities for inclusive economic development along the path of the interstates.

We believe a thoughtful application of the above principles can yield a transformative solution that addresses not only congestion and safety, but urban connectivity, development potential and revenue—and the open-space needs of a growing and competitive city of the 21st century.

The city and state have a track record of accomplishing great things when the public and private sectors work together. We did it for the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Fours, and for large employers looking for the best place to grow their business.

As a member of the Rethink 65/70 Coalition, representing hundreds of individuals and organizations, I ask that INDOT work collaboratively with city officials, Indy Chamber and the coalition to find a solution that drives continued economic growth and quality of life in Indianapolis for the next 50 years.•

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Knapp is CEO of Young & Laramore and organizer of Interstate Business Group.Send comments to

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