With Louisville’s Gargantuan New Interchange Comes a Profound Loss

Louisville's $1.1 billion "Spaghetti Junction" interchange under construction. Via Ohio River Bridges Project
Louisville's $1.1 billion "Spaghetti Junction" interchange under construction. Via Ohio River Bridges Project

Last week, Louisville cut the ribbon on the $2.6 billion “Ohio River Bridges Project” — a highway expansion that includes a gargantuan new interchange between downtown and the riverfront, known as Spaghetti Junction.

The project was immediately held up as an example of outdated transportation thinking. Not only was the interchange outrageously expensive, it has marred an enormous swath of downtown and severed access to the waterfront for at least another generation.

The project wiped out 30 storefronts — get those taxpaying businesses out of the way — in disadvantaged neighborhoods, Vox reports. Construction also consumed 33 acres of forest around the region, according to the Courier Journal, an area twice the size of Central Park. But to “soften” the “hard edges” of the enormous structure, the paper reported, some 580 trees will be planted around it. (How green!)

It’s all the more upsetting when you consider what might have been. A grassroots proposal to tear down a portion of the old highway and replace it with a park garnered considerable support, but was ultimately dismissed by local elected officials. Here’s a rendering of the park and esplanade that the teardown would have made possible.

3669130441_863b8dd908_o
An alternative to the “Spaghetti Junction” would have offered Louisville residents direct access to this park.

Louisville threw all that away to shave a few minutes off long-distance car commutes.

The city has been making the same mistakes for 60 years. Here’s a look at central Louisville in 1942, before it was criss-crossed by highways, courtesy of local blog Broken Sidewalk:

In this photo of downtown louisville from 1942 you can see the area where the junction now stands in the upper right hand corner. Photo via Broken Sidewalk
The area where Spaghetti Junction now stands is in the upper right hand corner. Photo via Broken Sidewalk

And here is Louisville with its present complement of highways and parking lots. It’s a tragedy that this is still happening to cities.

louisville_parking
Photo: Google Earth via Broken Sidewalk

Other good reads today: Urban Review STL says that rather than pouring millions of dollars into a soccer stadium, St. Louis would be better off using the money to clear the way for development at the site of a decommissioned highway. And Bike Portland reports that outgoing mayor Charlie Hales used his final public remarks to criticize Oregon DOT and car culture.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

8 Monster Interchanges That Blight American Cities

|
Ramming highways through the middle of American cities was undoubtedly one of the worst mistakes of the 20th century — demolishing urban habitat, dividing neighborhoods, and erecting structures that suck the life out of places. What could be worse than a highway through the middle of town? How about when two highways intersect, with all […]

Fighting to Take Back Louisville’s Waterfront

|
Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re headed to Louisville, Kentucky, where Broken Sidewalk highlights grassroots efforts to prevent a massive expansion of the I-64 highway on the Ohio River waterfront. A local advocacy group called 8664.org (as in, "let’s 86 the 64") is opposing the Ohio River Bridges Project, which would cost $4.1 billion and […]

Putting TIGER Spending in Perspective

|
The House’s current transportation spending bill calls for reducing the share of federal spending that goes to TIGER, a grant program for sustainable transportation projects in cities, from $500 to $100 million. The budget, meanwhile, holds highway funding steady. TIGER is an enormously popular program. In its second year, it received close to 1,000 applications […]