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Open question: What if we buried The Split?

65/70 split focus area

65/70 split focus area

It’s been a while, so I figured I would post an open thread for ideas and suggestions. This time around I pose the question:

What if the City of Indianapolis buried the I65/I70 split downtown? A simple enough question but one in which a multiude of feelings are elicited. What would happen to congestion? How much would it cost? Why go to the trouble? Other cities around the country are stuggling with this question. Seattle is looking at digging a tunnel for the freeway that runs through their downtown. It has been praised and decried by people. Some calling it an awesome possibility for livability while others accuse it of being social engineering to drive people out of their cars. Obviously, Seattle has more geographic constraints than Indianapolis. I won’ t take this space to advocate for or against it, but leave it up to the readers. I have attached a graphic as the focus area and frankly, its the most amount of detail I could squeeze into a screen shot.

Have at it!

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33 Responses to “ “Open question: What if we buried The Split?”

  1. John M says:

    Hmm. If given a choice between the interstates being above ground or below ground, of course I would choose below ground. In the real world, given the way Indy is laid out, if we were going to spend billions on transportation, I can think of many ways to better spend such money (public transit of all sorts, general infrastructure upgrades throughout the city, bike boulevards, etc.). As currently, constructed, it doesn’t seem to be a huge barrier to development. Some of the most in-demand neighborhoods in greater downtown are located on both sides of I-65 to the north. Near east neighborhoods such as Cottage Home, Holy Cross, and Woodruff Place are doing reasonably well despite being on the “other” side of the highway. I think development to the south is inhibited more by the industrial uses just south of the mile square than by the presence of the highway. Finally, there is no such barrier on the west side, yet the neighborhood just on the other side of the river are not exactly thriving.

    If given a genie in a bottle and an unlimited number of wishes, then sure, bury it. In the real world, I think there are other projects that would provide a greater return on investment.

  2. I question the need for the inner loop connection at all. The world did not end during Hyperfix. A better and possibly even engineering feasible approach is to route through traffic over I-465 and taper the expressways to at grade streets at the edge of downtown.

  3. Chris Barnett says:

    I like Aaron’s idea. The primary arterials were built before the interstates and are underutilized today, with the exception of Fall Creek Parkway/Binford Blvd. and Meridian. Madison, Washington, English, Southeastern, MLK, the one-way pairs, and Crawfordsville/16th could all carry more cars. They couldn’t carry the full 150,000+, but if the expressways tapered to six-lane parkways, it might be doable.

    Of course, four more “West Street” boulevards replacing the interstate legs in downtown would be only marginally better.
    There are a couple of practical matters. 1. There is insufficient z-axis separation between Pogue’s Run and CSX to put the interstate under the trax and over the box culvert. It’s gotta go under both or over both, and under both would also be below the water table. 2. There’s a considerable amount of surface parking under I-65 from Delaware St. over to Senate. Replacing it would probably require some structures for Landmark, Gateway, and Stutz buildings. 3. Replacing expressways with boulevards might reduce aggregate gas mileage. In other words, eliminating the expressway would not be “carbon neutral”, as cars get better mileage at 50 than at 30.

  4. Joe says:

    I don’t think the disconnection of neighborhoods can be denied from this interstate. How often do you see a residential road dead end into ROW for the interstate and simply place a guard rail to collect debris? How often does the urban form and built neighborhood form evaporate on the other side of the highway? The devestation caused by this project is unforgiveable, but fortunately not as devastating to the center core as some cities. This interstate will always be a barrier. I can’t imagine a situation where the public wouldn’t go for blood if this idea were put up for review, but then again, INDOT loves redoing their own projects for work and money so they may plow through with it. I believe that until we find feasible alternatives, both by vehivle and laternative transportation, we shouldn’t invest the billions into this project. Like many other cities, we are unfortunately stuck with what we have.

  5. anhe says:

    I heard once that I-65 was initially planned to be below grade, but the utility companies lobbied to push it above.

  6. JeffG says:

    Oh man. That would be prohibitively expensive, but the innerloop around downtown is poorly designed with respect to its exit ramps and deserves to be rebuilt.

    For years I have wanted to see Pine and Davidson become frontage streets along the I-65/70 segment, with a similar design built for I-70 on the south of downtown (the exit ramp designs there are total disasters.) The effect would be better connections between neighborhoods separated by the freeways, and calming the movement of traffic into and out of downtown. Plus, if you believe proximity to an interstate promotes blight, I’ll argue proximity to an exit ramp is 10x more devastating.

    Kevin wrote something about this a few months ago.

  7. Johnathan Doe says:

    Currently there is a plan that would make I-70 eight lanes from Missouri to Ohio. Two lanes each way for cars only, two lanes each way for semi-trucks and trailers only. I’ve always wondered what would happen to the interstate near the population centers, not just major metro areas, but smaller cities like Terre Haute.
    Going underground might be a viable option. The only negative issue would be flooding concerns. That could be dealt with by installing pumps, water alarms, and gate arms that could close the tunnel if back-up pumps were to fail. It wouldn’t be any different than closing portions of the interstates for ice and sections that are washed away in surface flooding.
    As far as taking the interstate out of downtown, bad idea to do this for vehicles. Lots of folks in the burbs like being able to get on the interstate and get downtown in short time outside of the weekday rush hours. Over the last two months, I have let my home outside of Marion County and went to eat downtown. If the trip added another 15 minutes due to stop lights, stop and go traffic, etc., I wouldn’t have spent my money downtown. If folks want the downtown core to draw from the metro area, there has to be a quick way to downtown. I would saw that a better solution might be to ban through semi-tractor trucks from I-70/I-65, but keep the interstate for downtown workers and visitors in cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans.

    • The argument that we need to preserve access via freeways to downtown has long been the reason that they have survived. But in reality, it doesn’t hold up to analysis. If Indy can add a substantial amount of population in the inner neighborhoods by converting the freeways, they can more than make up for the lost income brought by those roads. In addition, it removes the demand for parking so the city becomes even more efficient and it drives a virtuous circle.

  8. Kyle M. says:

    Here’s a video that should help explain some of the benefits of highway removal for those that feel that the interstates should be located in cities to move suburban commuters into the core faster…

    MBA: Highway Removal – http://youtu.be/y4po7WytcMU

  9. John Doe says:

    “If Indy can add a substantial amount of population in the inner neighborhoods by converting the freeways, they can more than make up for the lost income brought by those roads.”
    I don’t see how this would happen. Even if you remove all the parts of the interstates from within the I-465 circle, I don’t magically see a run to develop those areas. Has anyone ever driven through Haughville and other areas? It is abandoned house/lot after abandoned house/lot. There is already plenty of land available to grab, clear or rehab, and then build homes and move in. Folks want what they want, if you go over to the City-Data.com forums, that want is excellent schools and low crime primarily (taxes come into play with some individuals from areas with oppressive property taxation). What is usually not posted is “I don’t want to live by poor, trashy people.” even though that is exactly what folks want as well. Fishers, Carmel, Brownsburg, and Zionsville are top areas that info is requested about. The pro-urban posters there try their best to get some folks to consider Marion County. They bring up Meridian-Kessler or Butler-Tarkington, but if IPS is out of the question, they always push Washington Township as a back-up.
    I just don’t see how tearing up I-70 and I-65, anywhere in the city, would cause people to want to move back into the city. I guess if you take away a person’s ability to get to work quickly, they might move closer to work, but then you are going to have at least some % that live in the city and drive to Carmel, Fishers, etc. end up moving out of the city because their commute to the burbs takes even longer now w/o the interstate.

    • If you are wondering how it can happen, there are several successful models. Please consult the available case studies on this. As far as your other comments about what people want, I think you have missed the mark entirely. Demographers and developers agree that future generations of workers and homebuyers will be searching for exactly the kind of communities that cities provide. Indianapolis offers the best education and the safest neighborhoods, and a much better value for the amount of taxes paid. Converting urban freeways into more appropriate streets will only help, both by offering development opportunities and by increasing the value of existing properties adjacent to the highways.

  10. John Doe says:

    The video is nice, but again, it compares apples and oranges in some cases. For starters, I can’t stand comparing US cities to Canadian cities. Canada is completely different from the US. Canada is a huge land mass with very little people when you compare it to the US. Canada doesn’t have the social welfare issues that plague many large US urban areas. I once asked where the hood or ghetto was when thinking about visiting Calgary and Edmonton. I got a bunch of laughs even though I’m not from one of the big five metro areas of the US. They said that any ghetto area in Indy is likely 10x worse than the worst of the worst in Calgary or Edmonton.
    The video is clearly (to me at least) anti-sprawl, anti-suburban, pro-compacting people into as tight of space as possible. While I don’t discredit their comments on what happened in NYC or San Francisco, those areas are nothing like Indy. I have no doubt that we tear I-65 from Methodist to the S. Split, and I-70 from Lucas Oil to the N. Split, that land will be developed. However, it is only because the downtown core attracts a lot of people. If they build homes/condos, only a small % will be able to afford them, because every time I see any decent condo or home downtown, it is completely unaffordable to most of the population (homes seem to go for at least $200K, maybe $175K in a down market) when you factor in that many people will have to fork over good money for private school from K-12 grade.
    So when you folks talk about removing the interstates, are you folks saying:
    -All interstates?
    -Because one thinks humans should live compacted as much as possible to save the environment?
    This weekend I have done a lot of research on NYC. We are visiting. I went once, many years ago, as a pre-teen or in my very early teens, so I don’t remember all that much. We saw the Statue of Liberty and that is about all I remember. Oh, that stuff costs more there. Anyways, I am in awe of NYCs subway train system. After reading various websites for about an hour or so, I feel that I have a good grasp on how the system works. It is amazing what the system is vs. perceptions folks get from mass media. I’m actually excited to visit NYC, though I’m more of a mountain/rural type explorer.

  11. Micah says:

    Why try to fix the unfixable. We can dream up getting rid of our infamous 1960 style barriers for something more hidden, convenient and modern…but for what? To dream up how these disconnected neighborhoods become connected again(through development without incentives)? To dream up a tax plan to pay for a prettier reproduction of our known mistake from the past(merely hiding fast cars which will keep contributing to sprawl)? Without denying the the rise in future gas prices, we should quit trying to plan better, more efficient means for vehicular circulation. Let’s face it—the elevated interstates with her disastrous exits are barriers BUT SHOULD ONLY be touched at the time of being completely obsolete. In the meantime, let’s build up the infrastructure with a modern interurban system which starts re-connecting downtown neighborhoods for longterm investment. It’s the only way to eventually break down the ‘elevated ring barrier’ in a natural way…without wasting billions in the process. So why spend billions burrying when you can spend millions building?

  12. Curt Ailes says:

    First off, those truck lanes wouldn’t route through the core. They would go around 465 on the south side. IBJ got their graphic wrong. If you look at the website for the project, they wouldnt gut the core for truck lanes.

    Next, I thought that video about the freeway removal in NYC and SF was pretty insightful. I find it difficult to argue with the logic presented. Jon Doe, you may see it as an anti-sprawl anti-suburban video, but frankly, all the video is advocating is tearing the freeways down in the dense parts of cities where neighborhoods are divided. For instance, if some state highway engineer thought that converting 116th street to an elevated highway through Fishers and Carmel would solve the congestion problems, how many people would be on board with that idea? I can tell you how many. The ones that would stand to pocket the money for doing it, and that is about it. Nobody wants to have a freeway running through their neighborhood. The dense inner cities were the worst parts to do them because so many people lived in them. Do freeways move people? Of course they do. And in places where it makes sense to move people swiftly across open land, they should be the norm. We have ring highways like 465 to move people AROUND the urban areas where people LIVE and WORK not travel through.

    On a completely unrelated note, John Doe if you continue posting on this site without providing either your real name or a valid email address, I WILL delete your comments. I am all about providing a place for someone to air out their opinions but salvage some dignity and post your name. I use my REAL NAME every time I craft an opinion to put out there and would expect the same dignified response from anyone else posting here. My writing has went so far that my boss at my day job knows I do this and asks me questions from time to time. You dont have much to lose by using your real name.

  13. ahow628 says:

    I’m on board with burying it, but I would be more apt to get rid of it all together. I think that something like I-65 from 465 on the southside to downtown would be much better served by a parkway/frontage road system rather than a restricted access interstate.

    From John Doe:
    “If they build homes/condos, only a small % will be able to afford them, because every time I see any decent condo or home downtown, it is completely unaffordable to most of the population (homes seem to go for at least $200K, maybe $175K in a down market) when you factor in that many people will have to fork over good money for private school from K-12 grade.”

    It seems pretty obvious that you haven’t looked hard enough downtown for affordable housing. In Fletcher Place, there is a 2,100 sqft single family home in good shape for $110k. Things are even more reasonable if you look south of I-70 by south of Lilly. Are the neighborhood and schools the greatest? Not even close, but that is mostly because of the suburban flight that was caused by the interstates in the first place. Those that could afford to leave, did. Remove the interstates and they will start returning.

  14. Chris Barnett says:

    A related thought: if everyone who says that they’d consider living in IPS territory “but for” the bad schools actually moved inside IPS, the schools would get better. Much better. There would be capable, supported students with capable, supportive parents at home (and more importantly, at public meetings demanding improvement).

    I’d add to ahow’s comment. Irvington and Christian Park are other stable older neighborhoods a little further from downtown, with affordable houses. A Tudor-style house that would easily sell for $400K in Meridian Kessler or Forest Hills is typically around $200K in Irvington. A $150-175K “Broad Ripple bungalow” sells for $60-75K in Christian Park, but at that price you have to add your own maple/granite/stainless steel kitchen. 🙂

    • Kirsten says:

      Many of our IPS schools, especially within elementary schools, are great places where kids learn and teachers do amazing work. Before people write off the whole system, they really ought to explore how good many of the schools are. Shortridge, Center for Inquiry, Rousseau McClellan and many others are great, innovative schools.

      Of course, having more invested parents and community members would go a long way toward improving IPS (and many township schools), it just makes me sad when people seem to dismiss the whole system, when a lot of good learning is happening within many IPS schools.

  15. Rob says:

    Instead of burying the split, it would be much more efficient to use noise/sight barriers and landscaping. Both sides of the interstate would be well served by “encasing” it in noise barriers, something that seems flat out ignored through the city.

    Crime seems to be a larger problem on the outside of the interstates as well. A lot of people believe that the split creates (by complete accident, mind you) something of a crime barrier for the center of the city. While putting the split underground would help improve the neighborhoods currently on the outside long-term, I’m not sure it is something that say, a Lockerbie neighborhood, would want to deal with.

    Time is better served pondering feasible improvements and pressing INDOT with them.

  16. Chris Barnett says:

    There are more criminals inside the inner loop than outside. Mostly because they jails are there. But also there’s ______ (and here, since I sign my real name, I’ll let everyone else supply their own ending.)

  17. Chris Barnett says:

    *the* jails.

  18. Rob says:

    I personally disagree about that crime statement, but I’ve been hearing that a lot lately and public perception is a meaningful thing. The discrepancy in prices between houses on one side of the split and the other are absurd…look at the difference between for sale home in Cottage Home and Lockerbie.

    As for actually burying the split, the only way I could ever see it happen is if the feds finally decide to put in high speed rail lines in the midwest. Placing the rail line on top (or beneath) the loop would defray a bunch of the expensive right of way costs normally encountered in a downtown area. But that’d defeat the whole purpose of this theoretical question….

  19. Kyle M. says:

    I found some more vids that you guys might like (or not for John Doe):
    The Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway (Portland, Ore.) – http://vimeo.com/12500104
    San Francisco: Removal of the Embarcadero Freeway – http://vimeo.com/11910299

  20. JeffG says:

    Lots of good ideas.

    Rob wrote, “Time is better served pondering feasible improvements and pressing INDOT with them.” It’s soberingly true. INDOT would never seriously take a proposal to burry the interstates due to the cost. Feasible solutions that involve reconfiguring exit ramps, building frontage streets, planting evergreens, and installing sound barriers would go a long way to improve livability in neighborhoods negatively impacted by the interstate. Such a comprehensive plan around downtown would be relatively reasonable considering what INDOT commonly spends on interstate highway projects.

  21. Joe says:

    The noise barriers do much more social harm than good. While the interstate was and is a devastating divinde among many neighborhoods, the visual connection is still there. The giant walls they install close it off completely. I don’t think a resident cares to live next to a light noise, ugly wall any more than living next to an interstate. On a related note, the walls near 38th and 465 are quite ugly compared to 71st or even the fake stone walls at 10th or rockville.

    As far as IPS schools, it angers me that people who probably never stepped foot inside one IPS school are so quick and vocal about how terrible they are. It can take a few positive comments or actions to truly improve a school, it only takes one negative comment to devestate it. When the kids at these schools consistantly hear how worthless they are and how terrible their setting is, then what do they have to live up to? Give these kids a break and allow them to achieve.

  22. JeffG says:

    Joe wrote, “The noise barriers do much more social harm than good.”

    On second thought I think you are right. The noise barriers are hideous and hide the city from the freeway. Planting dense evergreens would be a better solution. I lived in the old northside for several years and we had such a barrier buffering 12th St from I-65. It’s relatively effective. I spent a lot of time with neighbors at 12th and New Jersey on their porch and was not bothered. Obviously a neighborhood assoc effort, but a more universal application along the inner loop would be cheap and improve living conditions.

  23. Micah says:

    Noise barriers are for SIMPLETONS who merely enjoy wasting a lot of money for a cheap, idyllic view. That concrete is usually never accepted so much, is it?

  24. ahow628 says:

    This is easily my favorite article on Urban Indy. I make it a point to try to read it every couple of months when a spammer comment bumps it into my comment RSS feed.

    I think if I had any dream for downtown it would be the eradication of the interstate inside the 465 loop.

    Also, just a follow up on the education topic, my kids are currently 4yo and will be attending IPS next year. They are going to be going to Butler Labs school. Between that, the Montessoris, CFIs, the Project School (RIP), Sidener, and a few other magnet schools, there is really know reason not to have your kids go to IPS if you live in the city center. A few of the above listed schools are probably some of the top schools in the Indy metro area. Anyone who is leaving downtown “because of the schools” is obviously looking for an excuse to leave.

  25. Idyllic Indy says:

    How about a visually transparent noise barrier?

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  27. Tyler says:

    I think it would be prohibitively expensive, however one could possibly eliminate the east/west segment of 70 over to 465, it would only add 3 minutes to ones trip going from the airport for example to fountain square. That segment of highway acts much more as a barrier than 70 north does, plus 65 west has all that parking and what not underneath it. 70 east/west is nothing but an unnecessary barrier. I mean how many millions does it take to maintain that highway and all to save 3 minutes of commute? not to mention the exit ramps along that portion of highway are horrendous.

  28. ahow628 says:

    And just as a friendly reminder, the Split is closed down AGAIN for the third time in just over a decade. Traffic in my neighborhood (Fletcher Place) was noticeably heavier than last week, but I still made it from here to the Circle within a minute of my normal amount of time in a car. On a bike, I would be unaffected.

    Clearly we don’t need the Split.

    • T says:

      We do need meridian though. That being closed as well as central near fall creek has jacked up my commute something fierce.

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