The Original Push to Build the Highways Below-Grade: Guest Posted by Anonymous
As we have a week of numerous North Split public and committee meetings on our schedules, I can’t help but be frustrated by how quick stakeholders are to gloss over the historical implications of the original interstate development. There seems to be a general consensus that the interstate routing decisions were bad in retrospect – it tore up blocks of housing and the fabric of neighborhoods, resulting in an economic decline for numerous downtown neighborhoods. It pushed out families. It demolished historic buildings. It erased history. Yet discussions continue today about potentially expanding the downtown highway system (but it’s in the state’s right-of-way, so it shouldn’t be an issue, right?) Whether or not the highway takes up additional square footage on a berm, there are legitimate economic, quality of life, connectivity, design/aesthetics, and historic preservation concerns that should be fully considered before moving forward. So let’s explore some of the original feedback and criticism during the 1960s. There is a great deal of historical documentation out there for the issues related to the interstate construction, but for this blog I want to focus on the feedback in regards to building above grade (elevated) or below grade (depressed).Â What we ultimately got was an entirely above grade system except for a few blocks of the South Split section, which is below grade.
Many groups and residents proposed the entire inner loop to be built below grade. Livable Indianapolis For Everyone Inc. (LIFE), a local advocacy group fronted by philanthropist Allen Clowes, recommended an entirely below grade system because an elevated highway would create a visual barrier; LIFE also argued for a route through less populated areas to avoid mass relocations (“Foes of Inner Loop Urge City Council to Join Fight,”Â Indianapolis News, 6/15/1965; “Plans of ‘Inner Loop’ Foes Snag,”Â Indianapolis Star, 6/15/1965).
Local African American newspaper, theÂ Indianapolis Recorder, mirrors these sentiments for a below grade system. U.S. House Representative Andrew Jacobs, Jr., studied engineering reports on the project and was quoted as saying “…the depressed route always appeared to me as the least offensive to the economic, traffic, social, and aesthetic life of our city…” (“Inner Loop Project Hinges on ‘Pro or Con’ Influences,”Â Indianapolis Recorder, 6/26/1965).
A few months later, the opposition continued to advocate for the below grade system and route changes. Other cities that built elevated highways were beginning to observe a blight effect. Could it be possible to improve flooding and sewer systems while constructing a below grade system? And perhaps most poignant wasÂ Rep. Andrew Jacobs’ observation on highway plans that place the motorist over the resident:Â “You appear concerned that depressed highways might interfere with the interstate traveler’s view as he whizzes past our city at 50 or 60 mph. I am more concerned about the people of Indianapolis who will be forced to live forever with the ugly scar of an elevated highway blocking their view of our skyline and monuments if present design plans for the inner loop prevail.” (“Inner Loop–Pro and Con,”Â Indianapolis News, 9/20/1965).
The City Council (not quite the City-County Council yet) also endorsed for a below grade system by passing an ordinance calling on the inner loop to be depressed and rerouted west of the North Split. (“Inner Loop Controversy,” Indianapolis News, 12/8/1965). Listening to downtown constituents, the opposition grew on the local and state level. By December of 1965, the Indianapolis Delegation brought its concerns to the Indiana General Assembly, signing a resolution that echoed that of the City Council’s. State Representative Robert V. Birdwell, with the foresight of half a century, stated that INDOT’s proposed planÂ “…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.”Â (“Present I-65 Design Blasted by Ind. Solons,”Â Indianapolis Recorder, 12/25/1965.)
So what lessons can be learned by studying the concerns of downtown residents, neighborhoods, businessesand organizations? There are a lot of large numbers being thrown at us, perhaps in an attempt to overwhelm us with costs. These numbers only represent the construction and do not consider any captured revenues from redevelopment in the ROW. I can’t help but wonder how much money we could have saved today if INDOT and the State of Indiana had listened to the downtown constituents who pushed for the entire inner loop to be constructed below grade.
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
Editor’s Note: Please keep this history in mind with regards to INDOT’s current system-level analysis. They are estimating the costs of construction, but not the costs of potential quality-of-life or economic development potential along the corridor.