Society has become dependent on automobiles, but should we continue to let them drive our thinking? A massive $250 million-$3 billion plan has been proposed for the stretch of the downtown interstate system that is referred to as the north split – or the dog leg, in honor of the overhead view of the interchange – and it leaves me questioning the ‘why’.
We Near Eastsiders are already familiar with traffic barriers. Adding insult to injury, now we are talking about closing down more streets to allow for reconstruction of the 65/70 split. Neighbors fought against this very same form of attempted progress through the 1950’s and 60’s as the state considered the construction of the downtown Indianapolis interstate system, known as the inner-loop. The initial construction project divided historic neighborhoods, swallowed up irreplaceable historic infrastructure and permanently changed the landscape of our city. Here we are now, at the end of the lifespan of that original system, being told that the system needs to be expanded. State Representative Robert V. Birdwell, with the foresight of half a century, stated that INDOT’s proposed plan “…could do a lot of lasting damage to our city. No consideration was given to the overall planning and to the people who will have to live with this thing.” (“Present I-65 Design Blasted by Ind. Solons,” Indianapolis Recorder, 12/25/1965.)
I have to ask – why expand it? Indianapolis is the economic engine of this state, generating 37% of the total GDP. Shouldn’t we, as a city, be allowed a greater voice in this process? Especially as INDOT states that 90% of the traffic through this system is ‘local’ bound. I don’t travel the interstate system very often. I am thankful that it exists but it’s not a necessity for me. For people living in the suburbs of the city I can imagine it’s a massive benefit. But should we really expand the system to accommodate? As I have heard it mentioned recently, Indy only has rush 30 minutes which would literally be a combined rush hour for the whole day. I think any traveler of the system would agree that outside of morning and evening rush hour, the system has adequate bandwidth for the load.
The system does indeed need work though. It suffers from the same freeze/thaw cycles that our surface streets do. The stretch along I70 through downtown is particularly bad, as are the spaghetti lanes that handle the secondary routes through the dogleg. It wasn’t that long ago, 2007 to be exact, when the Super 70 project kicked off, replacing a large section of I70 from the dogleg to 465, at a quoted cost of $175million and it’s already showing its age.
My point is, perhaps there are opportunities to improve our city, THE economic engine of the state, with this massive investment. Perhaps there are opportunities that can help take more cars off the road, reducing the costly maintenance and infrastructure improvement projects that we already fail to keep up with. Should we continue to prioritize our guests over our citizens? Are we enhancing an interstate system to further divide our downtown communities in favor of those who pass through the Circle City? Are we really going to enlarge this system for the one rush hour we experience each week day to save an extra 3-5 minutes?