INDIANAPOLIS — It's finally here. Indiana's second-busiest interchange, the North Split, is closed for 18 months in Downtown Indianapolis.
The southbound lanes of I-65 and I-70 between the North Split and Washington Street closed May 15, while the entire North Split closure took effect May 16.
The $350 million North Split project will replace or repair 32 bridges over 3.1 miles of highway, reconfigure traffic patterns and condense the size of the interchange, according to an environmental assessment conducted by INDOT.
"It is at its capacity," INDOT communications director Mallory Duncan said. "It is at its life cycle, so all these bridges and all of this pavement will be completely redone."
INDOT anticipates the North Split reconstruction project will be complete in November 2022.
The new interchange will feature a smaller footprint and eliminate weaving of traffic as I-65 and I-70 merge together. According to INDOT, the new traffic flow will reduce bottlenecks and improve safety.
Some familiar entrance and exit ramps will no longer exist when drivers return in a year-and-a-half.
Traffic on I-70 coming into downtown from the east side when the project is finished will no longer have access to the Pennsylvania Street exit ramp. Motorists also will not enter I-65 southbound or the collector from Delaware Street.
What to expect during the closure
Throughout the project, through traffic will detour to Interstate 465 where temporary ramp metering will be in place. People traveling locally should plan ahead, find alternate routes and expect delays, according to INDOT.
Motorists will still be able to drive in and out of downtown on the I-70 westbound exit ramp to Michigan and Ohio streets, along with the Pine Street entrance ramp to I-70 eastbound.
Connections from I-65 southbound to I-70 eastbound and I-70 westbound to I-65 northbound will also remain open to traffic during construction.
The Michigan Street exit is currently closed until late spring or early summer, but exits to Ohio and Fletcher streets remain open.
Vermont Street is expected to close between Davidson and Pine streets on Monday, May 17 while bridges are demolished as part of the North Split project. INDOT expects Vermont Street to reopen around Monday, May 31. Eastbound traffic will be detoured to New York Street, while westbound traffic should go to Michigan Street.
What will be open and closed?
According to INDOT, I-70 westbound will remain open at the Keystone Avenue interchange during North Split construction. It will also remain open to I-65 northbound traffic and will be available to motorists traveling to the Michigan or Ohio Street exits via collector/distributor ramps.
I-70 westbound will also be accessible from the Washington Street entrance ramp, but it will be closed to through traffic and to I-65 southbound.
Drivers will be able to reach I-70 eastbound from the Pine Street entrance ramp. Detours will be in place as the Michigan Street, New York Street and Vermont Street bridges are reconstructed, but the Pine Street entrance ramp to I-70 eastbound will remain open.
From the airport, all exits will remain open for I-70 eastbound traffic up to Washington Street. On the south side of downtown, the West, Illinois and Meridian Street interchanges will be able to access I-65 southbound and I-65 northbound up until Washington Street. The roadway will be closed to I-70 eastbound through traffic and to I-65 northbound.
Motorists will be able to get to I-65 northbound from the North Illinois Street on ramp. I-65 northbound will remain open from the South Split to the Washington Street exit, but it will not be accessible to through traffic and to I-70 westbound.
I-65 southbound will remain open to I-70 eastbound traffic, except for 45 days in the fall this year when it will close for 45 days. Drivers will be able to reach I-65 southbound from the West Street entrance ramp to I-70 eastbound only, from the Delaware Street entrance ramp to I-70 eastbound and from the Washington Street entrance ramp.
Local streets crossing under the interstate will be closed for overhead construction work at times throughout the reconstruction project.
INDOT has several recommended detours for motorists depending on where they are going.
How does ramp metering work?
INDOT plans to utilize ramp metering on I-465 to prevent too many motorists from merging into the roadway at the same time.
Ramp metering is a took used in places around the country to space out merging onto busy interstates. Metering will be temporary on I-465 and it will be located at several on-ramps along the detour route.
The devices will be used at peak traffic periods to monitor traffic flow. Drivers will notice message signs as a warning before they approach the metering devices so they can slow down.
When the light is green, drivers can enter the interstate. When the light is red, drivers must stop and wait to begin merging.
Why is this necessary?
Interstates around the country are reaching the end of their life spans, including those in Indianapolis. Traffic volume and crashes have increased since the North Split was constructed in the late 1960s.
The North Split is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Indiana with more than 1,600 crashes occurring at the interchange from 2012-16 due to last-second merges, weaves and lane changes as drivers approached exits or entered the interstate, according to INDOT documents.
"Reconstructing the interchange will provide the opportunity to replace deteriorated infrastructure, improve safety and reduce congestion by realigning ramps and merges in the interchange area, and correcting existing weaving problems," the environmental assessment's authors wrote.
Opposition arose in 2017 to planned designs that included elevated highways, large embankment walls and noise barrier walls. A group consisting of business leaders, private citizens and organizations formed the Rethink 65/70 Coalition, which lobbied INDOT to consider ideas such as a recessed highway that would eliminate walls, berms and bridges that separate neighborhoods.
Some of the coalition's ideas will be adopted into the North Split project, and aesthetic improvements, such as planting trees and shrubs, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, decorative lighting and landscape architecture, will be included.
Why didn't this happen last year?
Many people have asked why the North Split reconstruction did not take place last year when fewer drivers were on the road early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
WRTV's Rafael Sanchez reported the project was not moved up because INDOT said it required a significant environmental review to take into consideration nearby neighborhoods, historic structures and the local economy.
Both the environmental review and design work were still underway during the stay-at-home orders last spring.
How has INDOT prepared?
INDOT has spent more than $4 million to upgrade approximately 500 traffic signals on Indianapolis streets to help traffic flow during North Split construction.
"The improvements include GPS synchronization to keep signal timing consistent and remote traffic management equipment to allow INDOT technicians to adjust signals remotely when needed during peak traffic," a news release from INDOT said. "INDOT is also making several infrastructure repairs and adjustment at local intersections to ensure safety for motorists and pedestrians."
NORTH SPLIT COVERAGE | Fact Check Friday: Why wasn't the North Split project moved up? | Homeowners near North Split fear damage as their houses shake during construction | Interstate 70 lanes east of North Split will shift Thursday for reconstruction project | The North Split will close in mid-May for 18 months. Here's what that means for your commute. | Michigan Street ramp will close Monday as part of North Split project | Almost time: North Split construction to begin in mid-December | 'Under the highway': How interstates divided Indianapolis neighborhoods and displaced 17,000 people