Apologies to readers outside central Indiana, but this is important.
Local readers may have missed an announcement that there will be an “open house” to provide information on the System-Level Analysis of the entire downtown interstate system (aka the North Split) on Wednesday May 23, from 3:00 to 7:00, at the Biltwell Event Center, located at 950 S. White River Parkway S. Drive.
Presentations by INDOT–the Indiana Department of Transportation– will be given at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. There will be an opportunity for attendees to weigh in–and given INDOT’S disinclination to listen to urban planners, local residents and Indianapolis leadership, a big turnout is really important.
A bit of background:
Indianapolis’ downtown Interstates are at the end of their useful life and are becoming unsafe. INDOT bureaucrats have made it clear that they see absolutely no reason to deviate from the approach they’ve used for 50 years: prioritize concrete over livability and treat in-city infrastructure no differently than interstates crossing rural cornfields. Build huge “buttress walls” and add lanes to the existing overpasses, increasing the length of the street-level “tunnels” that already make street-level walking and biking unpleasant and historic residential neighborhoods less livable.
Thus far, they’ve treated the civic leaders and downtown residents who want to use this opportunity to correct a fifty-year-old mistake as annoying interlopers.
Indianapolis certainly wasn’t the only city through which misguided bureaucrats rammed downtown highways–disrupting street grids, depressing commercial activity and destroying once-vibrant neighborhoods. There is now a half-century of research documenting the resulting damage to health, air quality and public safety in cities throughout the country. In addition to their very high maintenance costs, these structures play havoc with nearby property values and remove acres of prime real estate from the tax base.
Other cities have removed their downtown freeways, and the results have been uniformly positive.
Portland, OR, San Francisco, CA, and Milwaukee, WI replaced their downtown Interstates with boulevards, saving billions of dollars, increasing property values on adjacent land and restoring urban neighborhoods, and another ten cities are in the process of decommissioning theirs. Concerns about congestion and traffic delays have proved unfounded—exits from Interstates are limited, while boulevards allow access to the grid, so traffic moves more evenly.
The problem is that–although Indianapolis will bear the brunt of bad decisions– we don’t get to choose among available alternatives. The state controls the process, and resistance from INDOT has been intense–and disingenuous.
When local residents first objected to INDOT’s proposal to add lanes and erect towering walls as its “solution,” the agency insisted that illustrations produced by the Rethink committee (available at https://rethink65-70.org) didn’t reflect the agency’s as-yet unfinished plans. Yet when INDOT finally unveiled its version, it was identical to those illustrations.
INDOT spokespersons dismissed tunneling as an alternative, citing enormous costs incurred in Syracuse, but neglecting to mention that Syracuse is tunneling through bedrock. (Indianapolis would dig a ditch through dirt.) INDOT has been equally dismissive of the boulevard alternative, which would be far less expensive to build and maintain than INDOT’s proposed repairs and additions to the existing Interstates.
When urban planners and residents of historic neighborhoods raised concerns about the impact on the urban fabric, INDOT responded that such matters aren’t their concern. Their reviews are limited to traffic movement and safety.
We need to make those negative impacts their concern.
INDOT is speeding this project through the required hearings in a transparent effort to forestall any changes to its standard, cookie-cutter approach by getting the project too far along to be changed.
We local citizens may not be able to change the direction of the nation–but we can make INDOT slow its rush to double down on a fifty-year-old mistake. We can show up Wednesday, we can petition the Governor (INDOT does have to listen to him), and we can insist that they genuinely consider the practical and cost-effective alternatives employed elsewhere.
If you live in the Indianapolis area, please make time on Wednesday to demonstrate that doing it right this time is important to a large number of residents–that we aren’t going away just because we are annoying bureaucrats who want to stay in their cookie-cutter comfort zone.
It’s really important.