An unprecedented shutdown of a stretch of Interstate 70 from downtown Indianapolis to the west side begins Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and will wrap up by 6 p.m. in a sweeping beautification effort.The project involving the Indiana Department of Transportation, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and Eli Lilly and Co. is aimed at making the commute from Indianapolis International Airport to downtown much more visually appealing, partly in preparation for the city hosting the Super Bowl in 2012.More than 8,500 volunteers, nearly all Eli Lilly workers, will park their vehicles on the closed portion of the interstate so that about 73,000 plants, including trees shrubs and flowers, and public art can be placed alongside the interstate.The project is not without critics. About 100,000 people traverse that part of I-70 daily, and detour routes are expected to be overcrowded, particularly during the morning and evening commutes.
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Officials said they want to keep as much traffic off city streets as possible, urging motorists to use other interstates to get around the shutdown.Traffic coming into the city from the west will be diverted from I-70 at Interstate 465. Motorists will be directed south on I-465 to northbound Interstate 65, where they can rejoin I-70 and continue eastbound from downtown.Traffic coming into the city from the east will be diverted at I-65. Motorists will be directed south on I-65 to I-465 west. They can get back on I-70 on the west side of the city.All exits along I-70 in the project zone will be closed. This includes Sam Jones Expressway, Holt Road, Harding Street, West Street, Illinois Street/Capitol Avenue and Meridian Street.Department of Public Works spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said the agency is worried about traffic issues at the intersection of Raymond and Shelby streets."We think as people are driving, they're going to see the signs that the road is closed and think, 'I can get through.' And then Shelby and Raymond will be their last ditch effort to really get off," she said.INDOT expects traffic troubles will be numerous, especially on I-465 on the south side of the city.Truckers have been especially vocal in their opposition to the shutdown, but others contend that a few hours of inconvenience is worth the result of the project."We will have officers out looking for speeders, people who drive hastily or maybe some road rage," said Indianapolis police Sgt. Brian Dixon. "To prevent that, leave early, prepare and do the speed limit and be careful."
Watch 6News beginning at 4:30 a.m. Thursday for updates on traffic conditions.View: I-70 Beautification Rendering -- Above Harding StreetView: I-70 Beautification Rendering -- Above DowntownView: I-70 Beautification Rendering -- Above Sam Jones ExpresswayView: I-70 Beautification -- Downtown PlansView: I-70 Beautification -- Harding Street PlansView: I-70 Beautification -- Sam Jones Expressway Plans