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(Indianapolis Star)

Think navigating I-465 during rush hour is tough now?

Wait until several construction projects get under way this spring along major bridges and interchanges over the interstate — part of the state’s busiest and most expensive construction season to date.

Highways and interstates can handle the traffic because of upgrades undertaken during the past several years, said Will Wingfield, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation. He credits Major Moves, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ 10-year infrastructure plan that uses money from the $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

“Significant capacity has been added to the highway network in Indiana over the past few years as a result of Major Moves,” Wingfield said. “Obviously, the interest is to make everyday travel and commuting safer and quicker.”

Perhaps the most visible work locally will be at I-465 and Keystone Avenue on the Far Northside — a key route to Downtown from Carmel — and at four interchanges on the Westside as part of the ongoing Accelerate 465 project.

But bridge and interchange work also is under way or planned along I-465 at Ind. 37/Harding Street and on the Northeastside at 75th Street, 82nd Street and Allisonville Road.

The work will limit options for motorists. With traffic snarled because of work on the Allisonville Road interchange, Michael Wallack detoured to Keystone last week to get to his job Downtown.

But now, work on Keystone is ramping up.

“I think the fastest way home soon will be through Evansville,” he joked.
On the Westside, work is continuing on a $423 million overhaul. Four of nine projects remain, including finishing the last three miles of an 11-mile lane expansion on I-465 from Kentucky Avenue to I-65. The interstate is being upgraded to five lanes from three in each direction.

Once scheduled to be completed in 2012, the work could finish ahead of schedule this year.
Aimed at improving traffic flow and modernizing interchanges, the work this year also includes modifying the I-465 interchanges with I-74, with U.S. 40, with U.S. 136 and with I-70 and Sam Jones Expressway. As with Keystone, interchanges will remain open throughout construction, but there will be periodic ramp closures.

“As one of the oldest remaining sections of I-465, the west side needed to be rebuilt and widened to accommodate future traffic,” Wingfield said.

On the Far Northside, Carmel resident Martha Gavit noticed last week that traffic was backed up more than usual when preliminary work at I-465 and Keystone began. She’s ready for longer delays as the restrictions and ramp closures begin to take effect.
But, saying the intersection hasn’t been too congested so far, the Lawrence Township Schools teacher doesn’t plan to find another way onto the interstate.

“Unless it gets really bad, there’s not another way that would be easier,” she said.
The $18.2 million project — to be finished by October — will reconfigure the ramp and traffic signal system to improve traffic flow. The state also will add one lane in each direction on Keystone — plus turn lanes — roughly between 96th and 98th streets.
And 96th will get a new traffic signal — though it might be short-term. The state has configured the Keystone work so it can be integrated into a future Carmel project.
As usual, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard is thinking big. After failing to land federal stimulus money last year, he again is pursuing the funding to complete his roundabout-style corridor from the interstate through Carmel.

While work was completed on the $108 million project to turn six intersections into roundabout-style interchanges this year, stoplights remain at 96th and 98th streets.
The mayor’s proposal — estimated at $80 million — would include a roundabout-style interchange at 96th and Keystone, roundabouts along 96th east and west of Keystone, an access road from 96th to 98th, and a reconfiguration of the intersection at Keystone and 98th to remove the stoplight.

But with no funding in hand, there’s no timeline for the work. Still, pointing to a high number of accidents — 17 to 40 per year during the past five years — and commuting delays, Brainard is aggressively pursuing the project.

“We want to finish our part of Keystone in a similar style to the already completed intersections so that drivers do not have to stop for lights,” he said. “We also want to build a roundabout intersection at 96th and Keystone to further reduce the number of serious accidents that we currently have at that intersection.”

Follow Star reporter Chris Sikich on Twitter at Call him at (317) 444-6036.