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Metro Council gives a boost to concerns from Louisville residents living near interstates

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Louisville Metro Council is highlighting the issues faced by residents living near interstate onramps and offramps.

On Thursday, the body passed a resolution calling on Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, or KYTC, to address noise pollution, illegal dumping and maintenance issues on state-owned property surrounding interstates. The resolution argues that residents who live near interstate ramps are more likely to deal with these kinds of issues, but many don’t have the capacity to get local and state governments to address them. 

District 21 Council Member Nicole George, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the resolution, represents the Wilder Park and Beechmont neighborhoods near the Watterson Expressway. She said the resolution was based on conversations with her constituents.

“I went out, I spent four weeks knocking on the doors of neighbors that I don’t traditionally hear from,” she said. “There’s just a significant amount of disconnect. All the more reason for more resources, more attention for these areas.”

George said property values are lower near ramps, and the surrounding neighborhoods tend to be working class, with residents who have medical conditions or are recent immigrants.

As she spoke with residents living near interstate ramps, George said, she heard common themes: Residents frequently complained of graffiti, overgrown grass and weeds and illegal dumping. That’s not to mention the noise they deal with day and night.

“It’s just more activity in general, which causes more things like litter or illicit activity,” she said. 

Metro Council President David James, a Democrat representing District 6, also co-sponsored the resolution. His district includes Old Louisville, where Interstate 65 divides the neighborhood and separates it from other communities to the east, like Shelby Park and Smoketown.

At a recent committee meeting, James said interstate ramps in residential areas have historically been treated the same as any other ramp, including in funding for maintenance and improvements. But he said that doesn’t work for residents where “the interstate is your backyard.”

“The ways that KYTC normally maintains those expressways works in the rural areas in the state, but when it's actually your next door neighbor I think Jefferson County needs to be looked at a little differently,” James said. 

The resolution approved by Metro Council Thursday night provides a list of measures members want state officials to explore, including giving maintenance priority to KYTC-owned property adjacent to residential neighborhoods. It also suggests the state look at installing “creative plantings signaling social order,” expanding noise mitigation and pollution monitoring measures and installing more live police cameras near ramps. 

A recently announced proposal to turn the area under the Watterson Expressway in Beechmont into a mountain biking skills course is an example of the creative improvement supporters of the resolution want to see implemented. That project is still in the early planning stages. 

“The economic engine for the state of Kentucky is just asking the Transportation Cabinet to reevaluate how it maintains the public right-of-ways of expressways in Jefferson County,” James said. “It has an impact on our citizens and our ability to be that economic engine.”

Metro Council resolutions are non-binding, meaning Louisville can’t force the state to act on its proposals. But James and George said they believe Transportation Secretary Jim Gray, who was previously the mayor of Lexington, will be receptive to their concerns.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.