Local highway projects aim to ease congestion by adding lanes
Several major Louisville-area highways are being renovated to improve safety and reduce congestion, including through extra lanes. It’s a method local highway agencies say is important for keeping up with increasing demand but draws criticism from some urban planners.
The I-Move Kentucky project began construction in early 2020 and is expected to finish in the spring of 2024, according to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesperson Jim Hannah. KYTC is updating Interstates 64, 71 and 265 in northeast Louisville.
The Indiana Department of Transportation’s Improve 64 project is in the design and public feedback phase. Natalie Garrett, INDOT’s strategic communications director, said construction on Interstates 64 and 265 in Floyd County is scheduled to start in late 2024 and take two years to complete. Those highways are just north of west Louisville across the Ohio River.
Both projects aim to make it easier and safer for drivers to travel by using strategies like reconstructing interchanges and adding more lanes to highways.
KYTC is increasing I-265 and I-71 from two lanes in each direction to three, impacting around a combined 16 miles across the two highways.
INDOT plans to develop a new lane in each direction of I-64 for about three miles while adding either one or two lanes to the eastbound route on I-265.
Both projects will use existing space around medians to create those lanes.
Hannah said the I-Move Kentucky project will help residents and industries.
“The major focus was to support economic development in one of the busiest freight corridors in the state,” Hannah said.
INDOT’s work on the two highways in Southern Indiana is intended to revamp “aging infrastructure,” said Garrett. She added the changes could also help with heavy traffic that’s common in the area.
“Especially during peak travel times, [we’re] seeing a lot of congestion along that stretch of 64, as well as some safety concerns, slow travel speeds and delays,” she said.
While governments frequently add lanes to combat congestion, the strategy attracts criticism from those who argue for the concept of induced demand. For highways, that means creating more space for vehicles would create a corresponding demand for vehicles to fill it.
Michael Manville, an associate professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, said that while building more lanes increases car capacity, it doesn’t make commuters’ trips any faster. The increased demand means motorists may not see any benefits for themselves.
“I don't think it's what most people think of when they're told that an infrastructure project is going to improve congestion. What most people think of is, ‘My personal commute is going to be faster.’ And widening a highway can’t deliver that,” Manville said.
Adding tolls is the only proven way to consistently reduce congestion, he said.
“The typical highway widening project has costs that exceed its benefits and probably shouldn't be done,” said Manville.
Asked about induced demand, Hannah said project leaders considered both current and future traffic levels when deciding on lane additions in east Louisville.
“Traffic congestion needed to be addressed there already,” he said.
I-Move Kentucky is a $180 million-dollar project that features renovations listed in KYTC’s 2018 Strategic Highway Investment Formula for Tomorrow initiative. Three of the renovations were listed among the state’s top 11 priorities.
The Kentucky General Assembly approved funding for the changes in its biennial highway construction plan in 2018.
Hannah said there are further highway widening projects planned, including adding lanes on I-71 near downtown Louisville.
Late last year, KYTC said a proposal to develop more lanes on a portion of I-64 near Cherokee and Seneca parks should be evaluated further. The agency also said the idea faced significant public opposition.
Garrett said INDOT’s work looks to both address current congestion and get ahead of expected future demand.
“We've reached capacity here on this stretch of 64. And as there's more economic development in the area, planned developments, we're going to see increased traffic just based upon projections that we've done for future traffic counts,” she said.
Garrett added that a cost estimate for the project, which will use funds from both state and federal programs, would be available near the end of its design phase.
She added that there is a pending project farther north in Southern Indiana to add another lane in each direction of I-65 in Clark and Scott counties.