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Louisville officials kick off Ninth Street improvement project

An urban scene, three-lane road along a sidewalk with some high-rises.
Jacob Munoz
Ninth Street near Interstate 64 in Louisville spans three lanes in each direction. A city project looks to reduce the size of the roadway.

The Ninth Street corridor is a busy thoroughfare that represents a major barrier between Louisville communities. A project years in the making aims to bridge that gap and revitalize the roadway.

Ninth Street connects thousands of motorists to Louisville’s highway system each day through Interstate 64. For several blocks, three lanes run north and south, with a large median of greenspace separating them.

The street also splits downtown and the majority-Black West End, representing a physical and racial divide that many residents recognize.

City officials have now jump-started the Reimagine Ninth Street project, a $24.6 million initiative with goals stretching back to at least 2013: to improve safety and accessibility, and to better connect local communities.

Louisville Metro’s Office of Planning and HDR Engineering, the firm leading Ninth Street’s redesign, hosted a kickoff event Thursday to reintroduce the project to the community after the city received a major federal grant for the project in 2022.

The city is seeking community feedback on the initiative, with two more public meetings planned without specific dates: a June gathering to share possible roadway designs, and a November event to present a more finalized proposal.

Michael King, director of the Office of Planning, said Wednesday that because Ninth Street is connected to the highway, the city focused on efficiently moving vehicles around rather than supporting pedestrians and creating “a sense of place.”

“There's development and supportive services on both sides of the street. But it's not comfortable to get to those places unless you're in a car,” King said.

Details for the Ninth Street redesign aren’t final yet, but a project proposal that the city created for the federal grant envisioned a much different corridor: going from three lanes in each direction to two, adding a raised bike lane away from the road and widening the sidewalks.

Because the project aims to make Ninth Street narrower, King said it could help prevent pedestrians from getting stuck at the median when traffic signals change.

The city currently estimates that construction on Ninth Street will begin in 2026 and finish in 2028.

Before that, the city plans to convert seven combined miles of Chestnut Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard from one-way streets to two-ways. Both corridors connect to Ninth Street and are part of the overall Reimagine Ninth Street initiative.

King said the current one-way configuration of both streets is a remnant of the city responding to growing suburbs by trying to make roadways faster to travel along. According to Louisville Metro data from 2023, few areas east of downtown have one-ways.

“When you think about if your kids would be playing outside, or something like that, it's really dangerous and really scary. So the community has been very supportive and very vocal in wanting to see those changes,” King said.

A group of people discuss a long black-and-white map of Ninth Street laid on a long table.
Jacob Munoz
Louisville Metro officials and HDR Engineering representatives speak with residents at the Ninth Street public meeting on Feb. 22, 2024.

Chris Glasser is the president of Streets for People, an advocacy group that aims to reform Louisville’s streets. He said he supports the kinds of outcomes that the plan looks to achieve.

“So many of these projects have been talked and talked about for the better part of a decade, if not longer,” Glasser said. “And really, the challenge is implementation and getting these things on the ground.”

But he’s also concerned that without getting rid of the interstate ramp, motorists will still be encouraged to enter Ninth Street off the highway at dangerous speeds.

King said while the city considered removing the ramp, it couldn’t be achieved as part of a short-term project.

Longtime Russell resident Naela Imanyara-Serikali attended Thursday’s kickoff meeting at the Louisville Central Community Center. She said she felt the changes were overdue, but more attention needed to be placed on addressing other issues affecting her community, like arson and murders.

Imanyara-Serikali also said she was concerned about how the project could impact property values and potentially displace residents.

“We welcome beautifying the neighborhood. But on the flip-side of that, what is that going to mean for me, in terms of, can I still afford to even live in this area?” Imanyara-Serikali said.

Some West End residents have also voiced concerns recently about how a different project looking to promote new development could push vulnerable residents out of their neighborhoods.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.