Louisville is what I like to call a “nice” big city. It is big enough to give off the urban vibe, but not “monster” big like New York or Chicago, which are cities that at times can be nothing but a driver’s nightmare. Every city has its pros and cons, but that Kennedy Interchange, or what is commonly referred to as “Spaghetti Junction,” is hands-down Louisville’s biggest con, and is hard to overlook. I relocated to Louisville in 2010, drove into that thing 5:30 on a Monday afternoon for the first time, and spewed curse words as I sat in the longest traffic jam since I’d driven in Chicago.
There was a day I took I-71 into downtown, thinking I would get onto I-64 East—not possible. There was another day I needed to get onto I-71 North from I-64 West—not possible either. I looked at the mass of narrow, then-bumpy ramps and tried to make some sense of what was in front of me. Getting over to the far left lane to go north when you came in on the right is not the easiest, or safest move; getting over to the far right lane to go south when you came in on the left is awkward. I’m not even going to get started on the ramp setups— entirely separate topic. Whose idea was it to have three major interstates come together in the downtown of an already-compact major U.S. city, and flush against the Ohio River? There clearly was never enough space for such a thing to begin with.
The Kennedy Interchange, or “Spaghetti Junction,” was designed by firm Barstow, Mulligan, and Vollmer out of New York and completed in 1962. I-71 was completed in 1968; I-64 in 1970. A member of the Louisville Chamber of Commerce by the name of Henry Ward lobbied to Highway Commissioner Ward Oates to have I-65 and any other future interstates routed through downtown Louisville. Ward stated, “downtown Louisville felt it would be disastrous for it to be bypassed by the interstate.” In 1996, Ward looked back at the push for the interstate highway system to come through downtown Louisville and said, “…it was a mistake. I think downtown Louisville would have been better off if Interstate 65 had not been located where it is.”
In case you didn’t know, “Spaghetti Junction” was only designed for a maximum capacity of 100,000. Louisville’s population was then bubbling under 400,000. The city-proper now has nearly 700,000 residents. Today, 300,000 drivers pass through the interchange while the Kennedy Bridge (I-65) continues to operate beyond its intended capacity (clearly). As many are well aware, Louisville is finally taking action to correct this horrible mistake, and such will cost $1.1 billion alone, and that’s not counting a new I-265 crossing in the East End which probably should’ve been built when the interstate itself was built. I once worked with a woman who compared a map of Louisville’s highway system to a “small child’s crayon drawing.” I dare say the woman was on to something.