Metro development officials and the office of Mayor Greg Fischer are reviving a long-dormant plan to extend River Road west of downtown. The road plan could be a catalyst, they say, in a broader strategy to revitalize parts of west Louisville that includes expanding Waterfront Park westward.
Under the proposal, River Road would be extended under Interstate 64 until just east of 10th Street, where it would bend south and connect with Rowan Street. It would curve north again between 12th and 13th streets and continue parallel to I-64 before connecting with Northwestern Parkway in Portland.
The two bends, which would take River Road south nearly to the flood wall, are designed to accommodate the fourth and final phase of Waterfront Park. Plans for the west Louisville park — which Fischer touted publicly earlier this month when announcing federal grant funding to study revitalization efforts in the Russell neighborhood — show the 22-acre park site bounded by 10th and 14th streets, and stretching north from Rowan Street to the Ohio River.
Patti Clare, deputy director of advanced planning for Louisville Forward, Metro government’s development arm, says the plan is “back on the table in a serious way,” adding that extending River Road is “critical in that it connects the downtown and western waterfronts and links downtown to east Portland.”
David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corporation, says extending River Road is the launch point for a new riverfront park in the West End.
“That plan, from our perspective, to be truly effective and beneficial, really needs River Road to be punched through,” he says, adding that the extension is a “no-brainer.”
It’s hard to argue the basic wisdom of extending a riverside thoroughfare into some of Louisville’s poorest neighborhoods, which have been disconnected from downtown for decades.
But until recently, plans to extend River Road and expand Waterfront Park in the West End had been urban legend, there on paper but hard to pin down in reality. In 2004, former Mayor Jerry Abramson’s administration floated a $2.5 million proposal to extend the roadway along the river, but it fizzled. In 2006, it commissioned the plans that are back on the table today.
Metro already has completed a feasibility study and is exploring land acquisition, although much of the land is owned by the city or the federal government. The plan will have to go through an environmental review and gain approval from the Federal Highway Administration because the expanded River Road would run underneath I-64. Metro is expected to lobby state government for funding to begin the project in 2016, says Clare.
Officials wouldn’t share a cost estimate for the project, saying only it would be typical of similar road projects (and that it would be a Complete Street). The $2.5 million price tag in 2004 included enhancements eventually made east of 7th Street, so it’s not a natural analogue.
An extended River Road would also better connect major investments in Portland to downtown, including the bourgeoning local art scene in east Portland. Most recently, Insider Louisville reported that the Louisville Visual Art Association is finishing a deal to purchase a 32,000-square-foot warehouse on 15th and Lytle streets to serve as its new headquarters.