A longstanding plan to extend River Road west of Seventh Street in downtown Louisville is gaining traction.
The Metro Council's Public Works committee will soon examine a resolution accepting nearly $400,000 to fund the design process of the road's expansion to Northwestern Parkway, which heads west into the Portland neighborhood. The state Transportation Cabinet is administering the federal grant.
Councilman Tom Owen, a District 8 Democrat and chair of the public works committee, said the idea of expanding River Road westward is nothing new. He said it's been a "public policy aspiration" for years.
But he said allocating funding for a design phase is a serious step toward fulfilling that hope.
If approved, the preliminary design phase could be completed by the end of the year, said Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Mayor Greg Fischer.
The process will be facilitated by Develop Louisville. A department spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Louisville Metro is also required to provide a 20 percent funding match, which amounts to about $100,000, according to the agreement.
Owen said the plan to expand River Road to the west relates to larger initiatives such as bridging what's known as the Ninth Street divide, the geographic line that has historically separated downtown and Louisville’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
Expanding River Road could also help fuel a revitalization of Louisville's historic Portland neighborhood, he said.
Councilman David Tandy, a District 4 Democrat who represents areas included in the expansion, said he fully supports the plan to take River Road further west.
He said it provides more opportunity to get people in to West Louisville and gives residents there better access to downtown and the waterfront.
The expansion is also paramount for the next development phase of Waterfront Park, said David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corporation.
"This is high on our priority list," he said.
Expanding River Road will open up new access points to the planned expansion site, Karem said.
The 22-acre proposed expansion of Waterfront Park — from Ninth to 13th streets and Rowan Street to the edge of the Ohio River — is expected to cost $35 million, according to a July 2014 report from the Waterfront Development Corporation.
Karem said it's reassuring to see funding begin to funnel into the effort to expand westward.
"Anytime you get a hit of money for some component of it, that helps create the believability that the entire project is going to take place," he said.
Porter said Fischer is excited about the project that would provide a connection for three "valuable urban areas and assets: West Louisville, downtown and Waterfront Park."
"This project is a priority for him and his team," she said.