Rendering of North End after re-envisioning; Rendering of North End after re-envisioning;

Indianapolis Inner Loop Visionary Study, Indianapolis

How do you address historic injustices, reconnect a city, and catalyze equitable economic development?

The interstate system that encircles downtown Indianapolis, known as the Inner Loop, was originally built in the 1970s and has significantly influenced the urban development of the city. Almost 50 years since its completion, the main interchanges and bridges of I-65 and I-70 are reaching the end of their lifecycle and will require major upgrades and ground-up reconstruction. As the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) makes plans to rebuild the Inner Loop, a diverse coalition of residents are envisioning new possibilities for improvement that will create a safer and sustainable highway network. 

Rethink Coalition, a grassroots-movement-turned-nonprofit, aims to positively influence the redesign of the city’s essential highway infrastructure. Their new vision for the Inner Loop advocates for a recessed highway system that places freeway lanes below street level and integrates a greenway and multi-modal boulevard system to address historic inequities and create transformational redevelopment opportunities in downtown Indianapolis, improving the city as a regional center for people to live in, work in, and visit.

To inform the community-led plans for the Inner Loop redesign, Arup conducted a comprehensive feasibility study for the Indy Chamber and the Rethink Coalition. The Total Value Report offers a holistic comparison between rebuilding the Inner Loop as-is and recreating it as a recessed highway, outlining the environmental impacts, economic development opportunities, community benefits, and cost analysis of both options. Arup’s study found that the recessed interstate concept is technically feasible, which could have overwhelmingly positive benefits for surrounding communities.

Project Summary

75acres of potential recaptured land


24,000potential new jobs

In 2023, the project was awarded a $2m federal grant under the US Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities Program, a pilot initiative that provides funding for efforts to reconnect neighborhoods that were previously cut off from historic transportation infrastructure decisions. With this funding, Rethink Coalition and the City of Indianapolis will be conducting a planning study for the Southeast leg of the Inner Loop to identify design alternatives to achieve the recessed highway concept.

A paradigm shift from car-centric infrastructure to community centered infrastructure is happening now. We are keen and ready to support communities in that transition. ” Headshot of Abigail Rolon Abigail Rolon Associate Principal

A comprehensive framework for analysis

Original plans for the Inner Loop did not assess the impacts that introducing obstructive freeways would have on residents and businesses. During the construction of the Inner Loop almost 50 years ago, thousands of homes and buildings were demolished, businesses were cut off from the city center, and an estimated 17,000 people were displaced. Today, these effects are still being felt in downtown Indianapolis. The city is not as well connected as it used to be, and historically marginalized communities have been disproportionately impacted.

To conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the reconstruction options of I-65 and I-70, Arup developed a broad set of criteria for performing a more comprehensive and equitable examination, expanding beyond the standards used when the Inner Loop was first conceived. Legacy assessments focused exclusively on elements like traffic capacity, motorist safety, construction complexity, and cost—leaving out crucial considerations.

The new visionary study addresses overarching themes such as local connectivity, quality of life, community completeness, and equitable development. The report compares both the as-is and recessed options through both sets of criteria. Arup also investigated the technical feasibility of redesigning the Inner Loop as a recessed highway system, including the financing and implementation of the project. 

Reconnecting communities

While the Inner Loop was first conceived to connect suburban homes to the city center of Indianapolis, the freeway system has created both a physical and mental barrier within downtown Indianapolis. A large number of city blocks that previously housed businesses and residents have been replaced with parking lots. In addition, historic Black, ethnic, and racially-mixed neighborhoods, once vibrant and economically productive communities, are significantly fragmented.

To address historic social and environmental justice challenges, the recessed highway concept envisions key physical interventions that could benefit local communities and make restorative redevelopment possible. Arup’s report found that lowering interstate lanes below grade will positively transform the layout of Indianapolis. The reduced footprint of the recessed option would allow the recapture of up to 75 acres of land downtown, making room for new businesses, housing, and public green spaces.

The current Inner Loop design creates inequities for vulnerable groups. If redesigned, the new traffic flow would promote equitable development by increasing local access to businesses and high-quality parks. In addition, the integration of greenways parallel to the recessed freeway would increase the overall connectivity of downtown. By removing barriers generated by the Inner Loop, the recessed highway concept will address historic systemic impacts, help to restitch local neighborhoods and communities, and contribute to the urban resurgence of downtown Indianapolis.

Improving safety and wellbeing

Additional key findings in Arup’s report include improvements to safety and wellbeing. A recessed interstate would increase pedestrian and cyclist safety through enhanced crossing conditions, a dedicated cycle track, and larger, continuous sidewalks. Slower vehicle speeds, reduced local traffic, and open parks and green spaces will also improve local air quality and noise pollution, improving the environment for residents, commuters, and visitors. In addition, the recessed option would support the integration of a public transit system in the future. Altogether, Arup’s report advocates that the redesign of the Inner Loop would create a more sustainable, equitable, and accessible future for downtown Indianapolis — while offering a unique opportunity to catalyze equitable development of the urban core.

Our methodology for evaluating Rethink Coalition’s vision can serve as a guidebook for other American cities as 20th century highway infrastructure reaches the end of its useful life. At this critical juncture, Arup’s research for Rethink Coalition and its partners provides a more complete framework for rebuilding the Inner Loop to achieve a range of tangible benefits for surrounding communities — and to help Indianapolis right historical harms and forge a more equitable and prosperous future.