Monday, August 25th, 2008
ATTENTION: If you want to know if you can use Ronald Reagan Parkway to get to the Indianapolis Airport directly from I-74, the answer is No. The road is not yet completed. You need to take I-465 to I-70 West.
The new I-74 interchange at a newly constructed segment of the Ronald Reagan Parkway in Brownsburg on Indy’s west side recently opened. This will be a major congestion reliever for the main SR 267 interchange, and is a key link in the north-south corridor through eastern Hendricks County. This project was described by some local leaders as Brownsburg’s new front door. The price tag on the project was $18.1 million.
Loyal readers know that I consider the design of transportation facilities to be of paramount importance in the modern age. Not only are these vital functionally, and so have to be rock solid from a design and engineering standpoint, but they also must have a high level of aesthetics and embody the identity and character of the places they pass through. Especially in the Midwest, which lacks stunning mountains or ocean views, the quality of the built environment plays a key role in shaping people’s opinions of a place. They are the new “main streets” of our day, our true public realm and shared space. They send a powerful message about who we are as a people. “For the apparel oft proclaims the man”.
With that in mind, I will tell you that this is a simple diamond interchange with a rather wide spread as is common in more rural interchanges. Both ramp termini are controlled with stop signs. This is probably adequate for now since only a short segment of Ronald Reagan Parkway, about one mile or so from 56th St. to Crawfordsville Rd., was actually built. Signals can easily be added later if warranted.
The road itself features a five lane cross section with shoulders and open ditches. The center lane is basically a TWLTL. There is no raised median. It is constructed of concrete to support the anticipated heavy truck volumes. Here’s a picture.
This cross-section befits a high speed highway and is built to a 55 MPH design standard. This is a quasi-rural design. In fact, replace the concrete center lane with an open grass median and this is basically a standard “expressway” design for INDOT. It is not a road I would describe as a parkway.
Here’s a closer view of the drainage ditches.
Interestingly, Hendricks County, Brownsburgh, Avon, and Plainfield spent a great deal of time and money putting together a Ronald Reagan Parkway Master Plan that was supposed to guide the design of the roadway, as well as the land use and development along it. This plan talks a lot about the type of roadway design that was supposed to be envisioned for the corridor (see Section 6). Here’s a quote:
“The Ronald Reagan Corridor Master Plan provides the unique opportunity to establish a design aesthetic and guidelines that will influence both the land use patterns within the corridor and its design aesthetic before it is built. This ability to shape the corridor ‘before it happens’ provides an exciting avenue for establishing a series of goals and having the ability to implement them with less constraints than on an existing roadway enhancement project. The master plan creates opportunities to promote high quality, innovative, and unique design treatments that reinforce the community’s vision for the corridor.” (page 6-2, emphasis added)
I can’t even begin to go into all the detail of what’s in Section 6. It has numerous cross-sections and renderings that show a true parkway, something far closer to Hazeldell Parkway in Carmel than the photo I posted above. But here are a couple of illustrations. First, Figure 6.6, a sample cross-section.
This road clearly beamed in from a different starship than the one I photographed above. Note the curb/gutter section with enclosed drainage. There is no shoulder and no drainage ditches. There is a raised median with extensive landscaping and a highlighted multi-use path on the left side of the roadway. It’s also designed for 45 MPH not 55 MPH operation.
Here’s a rendering of an aerial view of what they anticipated the road looking like. It is Figure 6.8 in the master plan.
What’s the point of a three ring binder sized master plan if you aren’t even going to attempt to follow it? If I lived in Brownsburg, I’d probably think somebody sold me a bill of goods with this master plan.
It would make an interesting case study to see how this project came to deviate so totally from the master plan. All is not lost. Clearly, someone could walk, bike, or jog on the paved shoulder, even if it wouldn’t be too pleasant to have semis zipping past at 55MPH. But it is a protected zone that can be used.
But at the end of the day this roadway is basically yet another mega-highway plopped down in the middle of the suburbs. It displays a lack of conceptual imagination and is designed with the sole apparent goal of functionally moving cars and trucks at high speed, full stop. For an interchange that was supposed to be the new front door to Brownsburg, this is a major opportunity missed.