City plans to transform major streets downtown have been strengthened by federal aid.
The U.S. Department of Transportation last week awarded more than $20 million in total funding to two Louisville roadway projects. The first looks to impact Ninth Street, Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Chestnut Street, and the second aims to improve Broadway, Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road.
The funds are part of a $2.2 billion package directed toward more than 160 U.S. transportation projects through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program.
RAISE received almost $10 billion to offer grants to modernize transportation systems through the Congressional infrastructure bill signed into law last November.
Louisville’s projects are known as “Reimagine 9th Street” and “Broadway All the Way” and obtained $15.6 million and $5 million, respectively. Metro government and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet provided partial matching funds for each based on the federal grants.
Urban planning goals years in the making
Both efforts are part of the city’s 2016 Move Louisville transportation plan, which identifies projects to be completed over a 20-year span and aims to attract funding. The plan has influenced current ideas on redesigning Preston Highway.
Chris Glasser, director of the local nonprofit advocacy group Streets for People, said he applauded the work of city officials, including those in the Advanced Planning and Sustainability team, to secure the RAISE grants. Louisville was one of three applicants to receive funding for multiple projects, according to the program’s fact sheet.
“I haven’t looked at the document super closely, but I would say there are very few other municipalities in the U.S. our size that can claim two projects like this. So that’s amazing to have, that kind of federal funding coming into Louisville, and it really speaks to our preparedness for that,” Glasser said.
The two projects are also part of a “Complete Streets” initiative to improve roadway access and safety for pedestrians, cyclists and other travelers.
In 2019, Louisville Metro identified the initiative as a transportation planning goal in its two-decade growth strategy called Plan 2040 and prioritized applying it in poorer and disadvantaged areas through an updated ordinance.
Michael King, director of Louisville Metro’s Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability, which filed the grant applications, said it’s important for the city to restructure its transportation system.
“We need to stop thinking of it as a way of getting cars and automobiles around, and start thinking of it as a way of how we get people around. And people move in different ways and have different modes of transportation, some by choice, some by necessity,” King said.
Current plans seek to expand travel access
“Reimagine 9th Street” would transform the namesake road from Main to Broadway. It’s currently split up into two one-way routes with three lanes each, but the goal is to convert some of the space for use outside of cars.
An example showing potential changes in the project’s RAISE grant proposal turns Ninth Street’s three lanes into two, one of which would be exclusively for TARC buses. It widens the sidewalk for pedestrians and adds a raised bike lane between pedestrians and the road.
“The 15 million for that Ninth Street project feels like, you know, funds that we’re going to be able to use to make that space into what could be like just a really awesome public space,” Glasser said.
The project would also involve three and a half miles of both Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Chestnut Street/River Park Drive. Both streets would be converted from one-way to two-way routes, from Southwest Parkway in the west to Sixth Street in the east.
King said the plan looks to make Ninth Street more vibrant and use it to better connect west Louisville neighborhoods to downtown. He mentioned the “Ninth Street Divide” that has been a long-standing barrier between city communities.
The project’s grant proposal also says it will bolster economic development by providing west Louisville residents better access to jobs downtown and encouraging investment along the three transformed streets.
The RAISE funding will go toward finalizing design plans and carrying out construction. According to a press release, the project will cost more than $24 million with construction expected to begin in the second half of 2025.
“Broadway All the Way” is in an earlier stage of development, and federal funds will be used to work toward a finalized draft plan by 2025. King estimated the whole project would take around $70-80 million to complete.
He said the focus of it is to reimagine the Broadway corridor, which contains Broadway, Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road, with an emphasis on transit.
The project’s grant application identifies a need to improve TARC efficiency and suggests bus rapid transit, which would include dedicated bus lanes and more amenities at stops. It also cites a Broadway Master Plan document that says service improvements like greater bus frequency and exclusive lanes would expand job access across the city.
“We used this as an opportunity to say, hey, the transit side, and it’s really important, but let’s also rethink this Broadway corridor, to become sort of a driver for how we can rethink our transportation system, but also how we can rethink sort of the land use policies that are needed to support that,” King said.
The proposal also discusses changes to improve safety, such as better-marked crosswalks, and environmental sustainability, including by encouraging modes of transportation other than cars.
According to a city press release, officials will continue to seek community feedback for both projects as planning continues.