Aim Media Indiana
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, the old adage goes, and that’s especially true for drivers of the roughly 17 million vehicles that traverse Columbus’ gateway — Interstate 65 at Exit 68 — every year.
The iconic double-arch bridge is a legacy piece for the community. It’s an intentional statement to the passing world that there is something special, something unique to discover here. It’s an expression in steel that Columbus is a Midwestern mecca for cutting-edge architecture and design.
For more than 25 years, the Columbus Gateway Arch Bridge has been an indelible landmark for visitors and travelers and a point of pride for residents. The span over State Road 46 has plenty of life left, but something will have to give. The roadway the bridge supports, I-65, will be widened in coming years from two to three lanes in each direction.
Recognizing this, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and City Engineer and Board of Works Director Dave Hayward reached out to the Indiana University J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program. Students sketched a variety of ideas for what the interchange might look like after the road is widened.
The students’ ideas didn’t disappoint. Some proposed preserving the bridge and either incorporating it with the widened road or bending the widened interstate around the bridge. Others dealt with what to do with the bridge if it isn’t included in the new road designs, recognizing the bridge’s historical and architectural import as well as what Miller school faculty member Britt Brewer termed people’s “affection” for the bridge.
“These processes are years-long, and they’re ever-evolving,” Brewer told The Republic’s Jana Wiersema. “And community needs and community opinions about what should be happening are ever-changing. To find that a solution for the one problem of going from four lanes to six lanes could actually be the seeds of making a contribution across the broader landscape — even more so than what you originally thought — is a nice thing to find out.”
We believe Brewer’s remarks are a bridge to the future for Columbus’ gateway. Just as back in the 1990s the community planned and developed the gateway as it stands today, our leaders should encourage a broad vision for what our gateway, the Exit 68 interchange, will look like in the year 2050 and beyond.
The Indiana Department of Transportation gets that, too. While the project remains years away, a spokesman said in an email, “INDOT and the City of Columbus will partner on the project. The agency understands that the arch is a gateway for the city and surrounding area. The structure will be considered when determining the final scope of the project.”
More growth and development will happen around Exit 68. Columbus Regional Health announced just last week that it is moving ahead with plans for a medical facility on the former Clarion Hotel site in the northeast quadrant of the interchange. A little east, the reconfiguration of the interchange of state roads 46 and 11 leading to the Robert Stewart Bridge’s picturesque framing of the Bartholomew County Courthouse provides an inviting “wow” moment for visitors.
Great planning and visioning went into that. We’re confident the community is up to the task of raising the high bar we’ve already set for our city’s main gateway.