INDOT says it won’t add traffic lanes to north-split interchange after all

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Plans for the I-65/I-70 north-split interchange project won’t add extra through lanes of traffic as transportation engineers had originally proposed, the Indiana Department of Transportation announced Friday.

Last fall, INDOT shared its preliminary plans for a complete reconstruction of the interchange, which is 50 years old and handles about 170,000 cars per day. At that time, INDOT said it planned to add lanes of traffic as the interstates approached the interchange from the east, west and south.

But now, after hearing community opposition and evaluating various options, INDOT says it has landed on a "preliminary preferred alternative" that won’t add through lanes. The agency evaluated five alternatives, ranging from doing nothing at all to a full reconstruction of the interchange.  

INDOT says the preferred alternative will involve adding concrete barriers between certain lanes of traffic and adding some ramps. This will require the construction of retaining walls in certain areas that are between about 7 and 11 feet high, located close to the top of the existing berms.

A full reconstruction would have added three lanes of through traffic in certain spots, necessitating much higher retaining walls built at the foot of the berms—essentially bringing the highway closer to neighboring properties.

Pending reviews, the project is expected to begin construction in 2020 at an expected cost between $225 million and $275 million. The original project cost was estimated at $250 million.

Detailed maps of the preferred alternative can be found here.

Over the past several months, community groups and nearby residents have been vocal in their concerns about the project—especially the proposed extra lanes, which they said would cause the highway to encroach even farther into residential areas than it already does.

This public input was a driving factor in INDOT’s decision, said INDOT spokesman Scott Manning.

“There was really a strong desire to not expand the interstate, not widen the road, not add lanes. And alternative 4C (the selected alternative) does not do that,” Manning said.

The Rethink 65/70 coalition is one of the main groups that has expressed concerns about the north-split project.

Paul Knapp, a leader with that coalition, said the group is encouraged by this latest development, although he also said he had not had time yet to review the related INDOT report.

“It sounds like we’ve been heard,” Knapp told IBJ. “From what we’ve heard we are cautiously optimistic, but we need time to review the plans.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett praised INDOT for responding to residents' concerns.

“This preliminary design is a testament to the legitimate concerns of Indianapolis neighborhoods who have felt the generational impact of the urban interstate system, and INDOT’s genuine willingness to listen and ensure their plans reflected that feedback," Hogsett said in a media rlease. "Residents should be encouraged by this kind of collaboration, and we can be proud of the initial plans it has resulted in."

The Indy Chamber had sided with residents in their push to study alternatives to the project as originally proposed. The business advocacy group said Friday that it was enthusiastic about the new design.

"(It) addresses safety issues and growing traffic volume through the 65/70 interchange, but arrives at a solution that’s positive for neighborhoods, land use and redevelopment, and the vitality of urban Indianapolis," said Chief Policy Officer Mark Fisher in a media release.

INDOT will hold a public meeting Oct. 10 where people can get more details about the project and comment on the design. That meeting will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St. Public comment on the alternatives screening report will be accepted through Oct. 29.

Following conclusion of the 30-day public comment period, INDOT will continue to accept community input as the environmental review process moves forward. Preliminary design is expected to begin in 2019.

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