Asking A Favor

I want to ask a favor of my readers in central Indiana–especially those who live or work in downtown Indianapolis, but also those who come downtown for sporting events, theater, restaurants and other entertainment.

I have previously posted about the upcoming project to repair crumbling Interstate bridges and roads in Indianapolis’ downtown. The city has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct the dysfunctions that were a consequence of poor decisions made 50 years ago, but it has become increasingly clear that INDOT — the state agency responsible for the project–is determined to dismiss the alternatives presented to them for consideration, and simply augment and buttress the existing configuration. (The agency claims to be evaluating the alternatives, but when they “explain” that putting the downtown interstates in a tunnel would be prohibitively expensive using an example from Syracuse that required boring through solid rock (Indianapolis would only have to dig a ditch), it is apparent that they are not acting in good faith. Apple-to-apple comparisons are available.

Downtown businesses and civic groups, Historic neighborhoods, architects and planners and lots of downtown residents have formed a coalition to push for that evaluation. We aren’t arguing about the need to repair this infrastructure, but we don’t want to lose the opportunity to mitigate the problems caused by the original construction.

The favor? Write a letter to Governor Holcomb, asking him to instruct INDOT to produce  legitimate, comprehensive, good-faith evaluations of the alternatives available. Here is the letter I have sent; feel free to use it as a template.

Dear Governor Holcomb,

I am writing to you as a citizen of Indiana and a resident of downtown Indianapolis who is concerned about a major project being planned by INDOT to repair and widen the portions of Interstates 65 and 70 commonly referred to as the “spaghetti bowl.”

Fifty years ago, when the interstates were constructed, they were routed through an Indianapolis downtown that had been largely abandoned for the suburbs–a downtown dramatically different from today’s vibrant city center. The decisions made at that time divided neighborhoods, exacerbated public safety problems, and significantly delayed the ensuing commercial and residential redevelopment of our downtown.

Those interstates and their bridges are now deteriorated and require extensive and very expensive repairs. Indianapolis thus has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically improve what everyone concedes is a thoroughly dysfunctional system. A thoughtful revamping could improve traffic flow and restore community connectivity and walkability; it could also spur economic development that would significantly add to the city’s tax base.

Whatever decisions are made now will be in place for at least fifty to sixty years, so it is critical that this project fix current problems and enhance—not degrade—the city’s quality of life.  A routine, “off the shelf” repair and lane widening project will simply lock the current problems into place.

In the face of INDOT’s clear intent to proceed with that “off the shelf” plan, a coalition composed of planners, architects, landscape architects, and business and civic leaders has come together and proposed two potential alternatives to the currently proposed approach. Both alternatives would free up considerable acreage for commercial development that would add to the city’s tax base, while the plan currently being considered—with massive concrete walls, longer underpasses and increased noise and air pollution– would substantially reduce the assessed value of a large number of properties, as well as the desirability of significant portions of downtown’s residential and historic neighborhoods.

When the current interstate routes were chosen, Indianapolis had no historic districts; today, those interstates disrupt five such districts. In our city, as elsewhere, historic district designations have generated an enormous amount of investment. Property values have continued to rise due to the attractiveness, walkability and residential character of those districts. INDOT’s current approach threatens that investment.

Fifty years ago, mistakes were made. Indianapolis has a rare opportunity to correct those mistakes. Members of the Coalition do not dispute the need for major repairs. We do dispute the clear preference of INDOT to effect those repairs using a standardized approach with which they are familiar and comfortable (and which would be entirely appropriate in a suburban or rural setting).

This is an issue requiring leadership that can only come from your office. I hope you will ensure that the alternatives proposed by the Coalition receive a genuine, unbiased evaluation.

Yours truly,

If you decide to email or snail-mail the Governor, I’d really appreciate a note telling me you did so!

Tomorrow, we’ll return to my usual ranting….


  1. Great letter, Sheila.

    INDOT is one of our revolving doors with major infrastructure contractors. Does INDOT make the decisions or do the contractors (donors). Who ultimately decides?

    I never could understand why our community was simply incapable of paving a road and it lasting more than one season. It’s the most basic function of local and state government leading to quality of life enhancements, but we have such a poor track record.

    Pay to play relationships between political parties and contractors certainly couldn’t have any influence on decision-making.

    Maybe Vernon will enlighten us with his wisdom. 😉

  2. Thank you for the template—it’s always helpful for us busy (lazy) folks who need that little push to contact our local and state government. As a longtime resident of downtown and a newer one to the very near Eastside, it’s clear that the INDOT-proposed “fixes” to the interstate system would derail the historic neighborhoods that are now beginning to spread positive redevelopment further east. The 65/70 overpass of 10th Street has always been a psychological and a physical barrier, relegating those neighborhood east of the bridges to a secondary status, a “wrong side of the tracks” as it were. Adding to their mass will only exacerbate the problem.

    The time to invest in a redesign is now—before INDOT’s plans have been finalized and work begun. Thanks for the encouragement to put pen to paper and to get involved.

  3. Done. Due to a lack of time, however, I photocopied your letter and attached to it my own cover note to Gov. Holcomb. My cover note “seconded” your proposal and asked that he take the lead. Took 5 minutes. Good luck with this.

  4. I wondered why you didn’t include Holcomb’s email address… I couldn’t find it by going to his website or FB page. hmmmmmm…. would it be possible that Gov. Holcomb doesn’t want input from his constituents? Would you or anyone who can find it, please share his email?

  5. I hate to rain on our parade, but why does anyone think the governor will listen to the public? He deferred to “the professionals” in DNR about logging in Yellowwood, so why does anyone think he will not defer to “the professionals” in INDOT? He seems to be a “make no waves” kind of guy, who thinks that that is the way to be elected.

  6. I recently attended the presentation by John Norquist at Indiana Landmarks, and found his examples of using opportunities to fix decades old mistakes in downtown landscapes inspiring. I wish Gov Holcomb had been there, but I understand Mr Norquist met with him earlier in the afternoon. Maybe Mr Norquist made his point hit home. Gov Holcomb has a unique opportunity to make a difference to this town, an opportunity to help it grow into an international example. Why am I afraid he will not step up? I will send a letter…

  7. I don’t live in Indy, but I will forward this column to friends and relatives who do. Good luck. I saw my own neighborhood ripped apart by the construction of I 65. It would be nice to see it come back.

  8. I will stay out of this issue due to no personal knowledge of downtown conditions other than my first trip downtown in 23 years last year to testify against my attacker in court. I was appalled at the entire downtown area; what was once a beautiful city was a mass of gridlocked traffic jams due to blocked streets for repair with no one working. Buildings of all descriptions, come still under construction, showed no sign of planning for the ultimate outcome of “downtown development”. Traveling through the tacky east side neighborhoods to reach downtown were embarrassing and street conditions caused imbalance and nausea. I have since read news articles that these conditions are also causing expensive vehicle repairs for residents and businesses alike. The once beautiful brick streets and sidewalks around the City-County Building were difficult to navigate on foot due to heaved up brick areas, trash and globs of who-knows-what to avoid stepping or sticking my cane in. The interior of the CCB appeared dirty and lacking any custodial care in entryway, halls, restrooms and inside the court.

    “Write a letter to Governor Holcomb, asking him to instruct INDOT to produce legitimate, comprehensive, good-faith evaluations of the alternatives available.”

    While ultimate decisions must come from the level of Governor Holcomb and staff; it does require cooperation and support from Mayor Hogsett and those historic organizations you mentioned. Is the area surrounding the State House in any better condition and what are conditions inside the State House? Chaotic surroundings can bring about chaotic actions and decisions from officials…look at the current conditions in the White House…where cooperation and federal funds must ultimately come from to accomplish any interstate improvement in this part of the state.

  9. By the way; after my years working in the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development and records secretary for the Metropolitan Development Commission (the board is, or was, ruled by State laws); what is their part in this issue…or do they have no part in these plans or decisions?

  10. I don’t have a dog in the hunt but I’m happy to send a variation of the letter from the perspective of someone who only occasionally visits Indy, has a few friends and family who live in the area, and pays Indiana taxes.

    But if you hear back that the more “neighborhood-friendly” engineering alternatives are too expensive please remind them that our state government is currently spending almost $27 million PER MILE to build the extension of I69 from Bloomington to Martinsville. Over $180 million was spent on land acquisition costs alone. The total cost to extend “The NAFTA Highway” the entire 170 Miles from Indianapolis to Evansville will easily exceed $4 BILLION.

    The paving construction industry owns the IN General Assembly and INDOT and they are NOT going to stand for any delays in the bidding and contract award timeline for the Indy central city corridor project. Caution: heavy lift ahead.

  11. I live in the northern part of the state and visit Indianapolis a few times a year. I’ve sent a variation of your letter to Gov. Holcomb, and am happy to do it.

  12. Good work , Shiela. I miss living downtown Lockerbie. Love Arizona. All the best on this project.

  13. Todd @ 6:53 am – I never could understand why our community was simply incapable of paving a road and it lasting more than one season. —

    Todd, probably Brand X quality. We do have higher priorities here in Indianapolis – Marion County that the Republicrat Party can agree on. Priorities like building, maintaining and subsidizing stadiums for Professional Sports Teams, or building a down town mall. The Capitol Improvement Board (CIB) collects roughly 160,000,000 a year from various tax sources, such as Hotel-Motel tax, auto rental tax, food and beverage tax, to subsidize the Professional Sports Teams.

  14. Will do – thanks for the template Sheila!!This makes total sense and since I spend a lot of time downtown on the IUPUI Campus (Riley) I see this almost all the time. Digging into the history of the hospital and surrounding area as far back as the turn of the last century that whole area and the people that lived there have gotten one raw deal after another. Progress isn’t check nor is the human toll that often is the price paid for it.

  15. Did it. Mailed yesterday. Learned a lot from your letter and wrote my own; yours was perfectlty helpful. Thank you.

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