Rethink 65/70: Debate continues over harm to neighborhoods

The “then” image depicted by the Indiana Department of Transportation. Some Rethink 65/60 coalition members, however, think the image underplays the potential changes.

A key stage in the proposed redesign of the North Split of Interstates 65-70 has been completed, with one victory for the Downtown stakeholders keeping a close eye on the project.

But many other points of contention and concern remain.

The victory is the Indiana Department of Transportation’s decision to abandon a plan to close the Vermont Street underpass between Lockerbie Square and Holy Cross to vehicular traffic.

The “now” photo of College Avenue and Interstate 65 in Chatham Arch.

Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett confirmed the state’s decision in an email to various stakeholders: “The choice to convert the Vermont St. 65/70 underpass was made in 2015, by prior mayoral and state administrations.” Bennett said Mayor Joe Hogsett and Department of Public Works officials have shared with INDOT the concerns of neighborhoods and businesses in the area regarding the project. “Earlier this week, INDOT informed DPW that Vermont Street will remain open to vehicular traffic and the planned conversion of this street will not occur.”

That battle aside, there are numerous other points of contention, some referred to in the report completed by the consulting firm of HNTB, which found “adverse effects” of the interstate redesign which would have impacts upon Chatham Arch and The Old Northside, including in particular the Morris-Butler House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

HNTB, an infrastructure design firm, however, found no adverse effects for other neighborhoods abutting the redesign area, including Lockerbie Square, Holy Cross, Fletcher Place, St. Joseph, Herron-Morton Place, and historic buildings including Arsenal Technical High School, the Shelton and Ambassador apartments, the William Buschman Block, and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.

The adverse effects upon The Old Northside include:

  • That the interstate would be up to 26 feet closer to some structures, including the Morris-Butler House.
  • That the interstate could be up to 14 feet higher.
  • That a 10- to 12-foot retaining wall would be built.
  • That screening vegetation would be removed.

Adverse effects upon Chatham Arch include:

  • That the interstate would be between 14- and 22-feet taller.
  • That the interstate would be much to 12 feet closer to buildings.
  • That a retaining wall of 10- to 12-feet in height would be added.

Although no adverse effects were determined for St. Joseph, the study noted that the Delaware Street on-ramp would be reconstructed within the existing right-of-way, but would nevertheless be 8- to 20-feet closer to structures, and a retaining wall as tall as 12 feet would be added.

In Lockerbie Square, replacement bridges would be 8 feet taller over Michigan Street, 3 feet taller over Vermont Street and 6 feet taller than over New York Street.

Also, vegetation (including the trees planted along Davidson Street) would be moved.

In all, there were three public hearings conducted during the Context Sensitive Solutions project, the last of which was Aug. 27 at St. Mary Catholic Church.

After the first two hearings, the Rethink 65/70 Coalition issued a collective response to various points. Among those comments, the Coalition suggested that:

  • The design of the new interstate system was insufficient for the state’s capital city – and is especially lacking as a “gateway” into the Downtown.
  • The larger expanse surrounding the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Soccer Park could be transformed into a signature “gateway” urban park. It was suggested that the 19-acre site be specifically designed as a park, as an official part of the North Split project.
  • Certain city streets and infrastructure cut off by the original interstate construction should be reconnected, to promote access to and redevelopment of adjacent properties providing reconnection of the community and additional property tax revenue.
  • There should be less focus and investment on applying ornamentation to the “hard” infrastructure components – walls, piers, bridge abutments, barriers, signage, etc. – and more on the components of connectivity, pedestrian-level interface/experience, and landscape treatments that screen and buffer the raised highway.

Over the next three months, the interested parties will be meeting to discuss issues such as noise and suggestions resulting from the public hearings. In January, consulting parties are scheduled to meet to discuss mitigation plans and develop a memorandum of agreement. That document would be sent to consulting parties in February, with final approval scheduled for April 2020.