Louisville Doubles Down on Disruptive Downtown Highway

Interstate 64, running between downtown Louisville and the Ohio River, was once listed on the Congress for New Urbanism's Freeways Without Futures list. Now, it looks like it will be widened. Photo: ##http://brokensidewalk.com/2008/09/23/interstate-64-in-louisville-ranks-7th/## Broken Sidewalk##

Louisville, Kentucky, is, by all accounts, a city with a lot of potential. An old river city, it has a wealth of beautiful, historic architecture. It’s mid-sized, but large enough to have some good urban amenities. It’s affordable, with a downtown waterfront and some unique cultural charms. As the New York Times said in its article about the city earlier this week, “Louisville has good bones.”

But, regrettably, Louisville seems to be on the verge of taking a giant step backward. Even back in the early 1960s, Jane Jacobs was warning that the “biggest threat” to a popular downtown shoe market was “an expressway that will cut diagonally across.” That market, along with much of the downtown’s pre-expressway vitality, is long since history. But the expressways live on.

Which is why the project to widen a nexus of highways and add a bridge between downtown and Indiana has been so controversial. The Times seemed perplexed about why Louisville — a city whose director of economic growth and innovation would proudly proclaim “urbanism is the preferred lifestyle now” — is expanding the downtown real estate it dedicates to highways, when so many other cities are choosing to remove them:

As for the notion that expanding the interstate tangle and adding the sister bridge next to the Kennedy might bring more people and jobs into the city, I can only say that 40 years after the interstates supposedly started pumping life into Louisville’s downtown, the streets here looked pretty empty, especially at night.

The project map, including "Indiana's Big Dig." Image: ##http://brokensidewalk.com/2008/09/23/interstate-64-in-louisville-ranks-7th/## Kyinbridges##.

The $2.6 billion project, one of “the biggest transportation improvements in the nation” according to its proponents, is a combination bridge and highway widening plan that includes two bridges and four highway segments. We wrote about this project’s other highway bridge segment — the I-265 bridge, “Indiana’s Big Dig,” which lies several miles to the north — in a previous story.

Why would Louisville do this? The answer, as noted by the NYT and local blogger Branden Klayko, is partly politics, partly business.

Louisville, home to the headquarters of UPS, considers itself a logistics city.  A coalition of business leaders united under the banner “Building Bridges Coalition” is pushing hard for the highway project’s completion.

“If you say anything against the highway you’re almost put on a blacklist,” said Klayko. “It’s been difficult for people to speak against the project.”

Nevertheless, an opposition group called the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation recently filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the project on civil rights and environmental grounds. A few years back, another group calling itself 8664 even put together a proposal to tear down the elevated portion of I-64 that runs between downtown and the Ohio River and replace it with a boulevard. For a while, that concept had enough traction that the Congress for New Urbanism added it to its Freeways without Futures list.

But any opposition was dealt a heavy blow when U.S. DOT gave the controversial $2.6 billion mega-project its blessing in early August. The states of Kentucky and Indiana, which are jointly financing the project, held a “ceremonial” groundbreaking late last month, tearing down a historic building in the new freeway’s path.

Louisville's Waterfront Park has proved popular. But as the New York Times notes, there's almost no way to reach it without a car. Photo: ##http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/de/WaterfrontPkDwnt.jpg/800px-WaterfrontPkDwnt.jpg## Wikipedia##

Klayko says at this point the project almost feels like a done deal. But he’s still holding out hope something could change. What a lot of people don’t realize, and what both project sponsors and opponents did a poor job communicating, was exactly how disruptive this new roadway will be to the downtown.

Interstate 65 “is going to be a 12-lane highway going through Main Street,” said Klayko. “It will have eight full-size shoulders — about 300 feet, plus or minus, of elevated highway. It’s almost a whole block.”

The New York Times referred to an arts district that is coming together not far away from the highway’s path, along East Market Street:

A renovated 19th-century former dry goods store, the Green Building, opened to much fanfare in 2008 and inspired a cluster of art galleries and upscale restaurants in an area long known for its homeless shelters and projects for the poor. The neighborhood now advertises itself as NuLu.

“We’ll see if 300 feet of highway is enough to kill it,” said Klayko.

  • Ted Fleischaker

    The sad part(s) are that this is my hometown and one I own a business in and visit often (this week for 3 days for instance) and I support this project because downtown is already DEAD. Louisville has lacked downtown shopping for years now, unlike my adopted (22 years +) home of Indianapolis where full shopping is all the rage downtown. Louisville sadly is a “no underwear downtown” meaning you can’t BUY a pair there as there is NO downtown retail whatsoever. Some OK restaurants and some so-so to great hotels, but no retail, so what I am saying is it’s too late Louisville to do anything to “save” downtown. After 5 and on weekends it’s mainly DEAD and without underwear (to buy) there’s no point in “saving” anything. I wish this were not the case as I love the buildings, the streets I walked as a kid and still do, but at the end of the day the buildings are offices so nothing to buy in them or they are closed or replaced by parking lots so while I might mourn for Stewart’s or Kaufman’s or any of the retail they used to have, it’s just not there. Stewart’s building became a stock brokerage which too has moved out and was mostly (aside from a small branch bank) vacant when I was by this week. In Indy, just 110 miles north the old LS Ayres store now has a Carson Pirie Scott Dept store on the first 3 floors and offices above. It’s totally full and the gorgeous decor lives on on the selling floor. Nearby Blocks is now sold out apatments above with TJ Maxx below…and I could go on and on. So my point here is build the bridges and roads as the damage is done, the patient is dead so at least make it possible for me to make my business meetings in the East End without sitting as I did in so much traffic as the roads are jammed —too bad usually with people fleeing the dead downtown after work!

  • Virginia Jolly

    How dare you tell us how we should plan our city! There are people who live in Southern Indiana east of Downtown Louisville up to Madison, IN who would dearly love to get access to East Louisville! And people who live in East Louisville need ways to get to their jobs east of Downtown Louisville without having to go all the way west and all the way east when a trip over a bridge would cut that time and travel down two thirds! The bridge would logically connect the two fully-built parts of I-265 on both sides of the highway. People want this bridge, and the only ones standing in the way are a small group of fat cats that want to develop the area for their own pocketbooks.

    This bridge would open up commerce for Louisville and the smaller towns in Southern Indiana for people to have access to. It would add to the ability of the Transit Authority, TARC, to provide much-needed transportation to more places sensibly so that we can access more of the wonderful beauty and commerce that is on both sides of the river.

    We in Louisville, KY and in Southern Indiana live with much history in our midst; we always have. You can spend a month here and not have visited all the wonderful nature preserves, historical buildings, historical preserves, and Olmstead Parks (look up Frederick Law Olmstead re: Central Park, NY, and his establishment of the park system in Louisville, KY).We live IN our history. Next to I-264 (the Watterson Expressway), Historic Farmington–the plantation of the Speed family–was host to President Abraham Lincoln when he visited to rest from his depression. It is preserved in a most beautiful way with plenty of vegetation that removes any thought that there might be an interstate highway less than a quarter mile away.Down by the very busy highway (1020), Kenwood Way, around one of the Olmstead parks–Iroquois Park–is a set of three buildings that are called “The Little Loom House,” home to the Little Looms that were invented as portable ways for people to weave. It has a library of weaving patterns, historic rooms, and historic artifacts, including old looms, spinning wheels, and centrally-located fireplaces preserved in the ways of the days in which they were built. The lady who wrote “Happy Birthday” had it sung first in that museum. They are also in a setting that would belie the fact that heavy traffic lies nearby.More recent, but no less loved, is a pavilion that is shaped like a modified Eiffel tower–but acts more like a giant tepee on stilts.. This pavilion housed many a celebration, picnic, and wedding, and is daily visited by those visiting Cherokee Park (another Olmstead Park). It is often called The Pavilion at Hogan’s Fountain.

    Our Louisville Zoo is nationally famous and was the first ever zoo that was created, not as a cage zoo, but as a habitat zoo, to allow the animals to have as close to a natural habitat as possible. The zoo participates in a lot of nature-preserving programs, including Species Survival programs. It is a very popular zoo. It is also in our metropolitan midst.

    I agree with Ted Fleishchaker that there is no commerce downtown that would support living down there. There are galleries and restaurants, but restaurants don’t stock your fridge and freezer, and galleries don’t provide you with living stuff. The only thing you CAN do with downtown is make it a showcase. Most people who live there live there because they are forced to. It is dirty, there is no greenery, it is loud, and the temperatures are extreme: too hot in the summertime, too cold in the wintertime.Downtown was dying when Stewart’s left (and the Galleria was a joke), and even Borders and other stores left. The fact that there are bars downtown for the most part tells you what’s available. Not living.

    What is vital is our neighborhoods: Old Louisville (not anywhere near downtown), Highlands, Clifton,and Crescent Hill are some of our oldest neighborhoods and provide eclectic fare. Our culture isn’t centered in any one area. It is throughout. We need to be able to access all that as much as the human body needs the large and tiny branches of a cardiovascular system.

  • Bud

    The Bridges Project is not a $ 2.6 billion dollar project. The Bridges Project is a leveraged financing boondogle creating a “Tolling Authority” to collect $ 10 billion dollars of tolls for a period of 30 years or more after construction. The chicanery in selecting the most expensive east end bridge route requiring twin tunnels also ignored the stormwater pollution going to the well head protection area of a main municipal drinking water source. The managers of the ‘highway robbery’ plan have no one but themselves to blame if the project collapses under the weight of its own blunders. The city has suffered by the collapse of investigative journalism and the relentless undermining of the public discourse by paid PR agents of the proponents.

  • Jibreel Riley

    this isn’t going to fix anything about downtown shopping, I can bet a hot brown on that! 

  • Jared

    Louisville was an innovative city in terms of public transportation until the 1940’s. Since then we have expanded and become totally reliable on cars and personal transportation. Adding highways and expanding suburbs only increases traffic and makes it more difficult to visit the wonderful places people keep talking about. Downtown is dead BECAUSE we have built so many highways. Numerous other cities have already demonstrated the value to revitalizing urban areas by expanding public transit and reducing highway systems. The question is whether Louisville will come to terms with that now, or waste money on a system that is doomed to fail and then waste more money undoing it later after having lost years of growth that could have been had we reduced traffic and made it easier for Louisvillians to travel safely. If more people were traveling by rail, then our current highway system would be sufficient for motorists.

  • Alex

    The NYTIMES is biased against cars to an extent, the phrase that adding lanes increases traffic and taking it away decreases defies logic, new york has traffic all the time despite frequent use of mass transit and highways have not been constructed or maintained. The real problem in new york is the outer boroughs, where although public transportation is decent it becomes a problem when you need to visit several places and then it takes a toll as opposed to in manhattan where you just hop difference places on the train.

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