Tag Archives: INDOT

Show Up–It’s Important!

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.

 

 

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….

 

Penny Wise, Pound Foolish: Zillionth Example

Today I’m delivering a brief Treatise on Government (apologies to John Locke…)in the form of a case study.

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

Fifty years later, those interstates and their bridges are deteriorated and require repair. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) has proposed to make those repairs, and in the process to further widen the interstate lanes and bridges and buttress them with enormous, dystopian concrete walls.

Thanks to the need for extensive and costly repairs, Indianapolis has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dramatically improve 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. (Nothing to sneeze at, given our fiscal constraints.)

It is rare that a city gets an opportunity like this. Whatever decisions are made now will be in place for at least fifty to sixty years, so you would think that careful planning would be undertaken, to ensure that any project fixes current problems and is consistent with the city’s quality of life and transportation goals.

Thus far, however, both INDOT and the Mayor’s office have seemed disinterested in engaging in such a planning process, or considering anything other than a routine, “off the shelf” (and very expensive) repair and lane widening project that will simply lock the current problems into place.

In response to that disinterest, a group of planners, architects, landscape architects and residents who have made significant investments in the city center have come together to propose two potential alternatives to the currently proposed approach, and are urging INDOT to analyze and consider those alternatives.

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 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. The alternatives would also mitigate noise and air pollution, which are a problem currently and which would be worsened by the addition of lanes.

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.

We would be crazy not to protect these municipal assets.

Fifty years ago, mistakes were made. Indianapolis has a rare opportunity to correct those mistakes. It remains to be seen whether our city and state governments are willing to listen to the hundreds of residents and businesses that will be affected by the decisions being made–whether they will be responsive both to their citizens and to the data, and flexible enough to adjust a business-as-usual approach when the data indicates it will exacerbate those initial mistakes.

Why is this my “case study”?

I post a lot about national policies on this blog, and obviously, I think those policies are important. But decisions like those in my case study are where the rubber meets the road, as the saying goes. Everyday decisions, made by government agency employees and implemented by elected officials–Mayors and Governors–are enormously consequential for our day-to-day lives.

Providing disruptive and/or dysfunctional infrastructure, starving public schools of resources, failing to provide adequate public safety and other public services–all these things diminish our property values and degrade our quality of life. They’re important.

Hell, they’re critical.

Ultimately, that’s what governing is all about. It’s not glamorous.  It’s not about pomp and circumstance. It’s about the day-to-day grunt work necessary to provide a federal, state or local socio- political infrastructure that enhances the lives of citizens. I know Donald Trump doesn’t understand that, but most of the rest of us do.

Whether our state and local elected leadership recognizes the importance of these issues is an open question. When we know the answer, I’ll share it.