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Indianapolis group lays a once-in-a-generation plan to lower the interstate

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WISH) — A private group, Rethink 65-70, believes that the Indiana Department of Transportation should take a different approach when rebuilding the interstate South Split.

Vincent Darden, an Old Southside neighborhood citizen, said, “It was a vibrant neighborhood, it was a mixture of German immigrants and Blacks and everyone got along.”

Darden remembers the area well, when all the streets ran uninterrupted throughout the city. Interstate 70 was built in the early 1970s when elevated interstates were in fashion. The construction cut several neighborhoods in half and took more than 200 homes with it.  

“It destroyed the neighborhoods, it just didn’t disconnect them, it just broke up everything,” Darden said.

For the first time in a generation, the state is making plans to redo the interstate.

But, Rethink 65/70 wants a seat at the table, particularly after the North Split construction lifted the interstate even higher from the ground. 

Brenda Freije, president of Rethink 65-70, has helped establish a study funded by the Lilly Endowment. The study found the interstate below the existing street level is feasible.

“You can reconnect boulevards back over the top and you can build what is called caps and stitches — it is pretty common — and you can build parks, and you can have buildings over the highway, and that really brings the neighborhoods back together so they no longer have an elevated highway as a wall, they can just walk across and the bridges themselves become connecting points,” Freije said.

The question of cost still remains, though.

Moving the interstate lower is more expensive, about 25% more expensive than the current $2.3 billion estimate laid out by the state. However, the Indianapolis city government is partnering with Rethink 65/70 for a federal grant to further study the redesign of the interstate.  

“Yes, this has to be a collaborative effort between the city, the community, and the state because all of those parties have interest and the state has ownership rights of the interstate,” Freije said.

Another piece to this concrete puzzle sill remains, though. The federal government can attach design requirements to funding.

INDOT is leaning toward projects that have positive environmental and societal impacts, which Rethink 65/70 group says their approach aligns with.  Darden hopes that removing the elevated interstate would bring people back to the neighborhood.

“It would be nice to have families around here again,” Darden said.

If the federal grant is awarded for additional studies, the reconstruction of the southern portion of the loop would not begin until at least 2024 or later.