The Blog
The Interchange of Art and Nature: A Greener Welcome

From sunup to sundown October 7, 2010, more than 8,000 volunteers from Eli Lilly and Company and six partner companies will use shovels, trowels, and rakes to transform the western gateway to Indianapolis into ‘A Greener Welcome.’ The project is a part of the 2010 Lilly Global Day of Service in partnership with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) and the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).

Volunteers will landscape five interchanges along this industrial corridor of Interstate-70, planting 1,614 trees, 72,304 native plants and shrubs, and installing 2,600 yards of mulch. Specially commissioned sculptures will be installed at three interchanges later in the fall. The improved interchanges will create a beautiful welcome to the city for the millions of visitors traveling to Indianapolis each year.

“Indianapolis is at the crossroads of America,” said Bart Peterson, senior vice president of corporate affairs and communications for Lilly. “Interstate 70 from the new airport to our vibrant downtown is one of the most travelled corridors for visitors coming to our city, so it’s important we make a good first impression. We believe improving these highway interchanges will provide a greater sense of community pride, economic development opportunities, and enhanced quality of life for residents and commuters.”

I-70 Temporary Closure and Detour
To ensure the safety of motorists and volunteers and allow the work to be done faster, six miles of I-70 on the west side of Indianapolis, from I-465 to I-65 near downtown, will close from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. October 7. All I-70 interchanges along the project route also will close, including Sam Jones Expressway, Holt Road, Harding Street, West Street, Illinois Street/Capitol Avenue, and Meridian Street. Traffic will be diverted to I-65 and I-465.

The 12-hour closure provides safer conditions for the thousands of volunteers working along the highway and for the 100,000 motorists that travel the route each day by eliminating potential distractions caused by the work. The temporary closure also eliminates the need for traffic restrictions in the work zone and provides better conditions for drivers than a long-term construction work zone and restrictions that otherwise would take place over many days.

INDOT maintenance crews will take advantage of the temporary closure and perform bridge inspections, bridge repair, and pavement maintenance, reducing the need for future lane closures and making efficient use of taxpayer resources.

“We are proud to be a part of the beautification of this important gateway into Indianapolis,” said Bob Zier, chief of staff for INDOT. “This project represents a powerful community collaboration, as it brings together private companies, community leaders, government agencies, and an army of motivated volunteers that wants to make a difference for the city of Indianapolis.”

The Environment and Native Plants 
A Greener Welcome will have a positive impact on the environment. More than 73,000 native trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials will be planted. About 17 acres within the interchanges will be naturalized with trees, shrubs and plants. The areas will need less frequent mowing, saving money for other projects.

Newly planted trees will help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) in the area. Trees absorb more CO2 than grass, and it’s estimated that the 1,614 trees planted along the I-70 interchanges will capture more than 17,000 net pounds of CO2 in the area during their first year and more as they grow larger.

“We worked with a team of urban planners and landscape architects to select native plants to develop a strong landscape that can thrive in a tough environment, create a haven for birds, insects and butterflies, and soften the city’s hard edges,” said David Forsell, president of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. “We want residents and visitors to keep an eye on these interchanges to see how the plants grow and develop over time. While we are installing the plants trimmed back so they are ready for winter, we will begin to see the true beauty of this project next spring and in the years to come.”

A wide variety of plants were selected for their appeal as they grow and mature:

  • A dozen types of trees will be planted, including American Hophornbeam, Honey Locust, Kentucky Coffeetree, and Quaking Aspen.
  • Native shrubs include Fragrant Sumac, Staghorn Sumac, and Red-Twig Dogwood.
  • Eleven perennials will be installed, including Autumn Goldenrod, Black Eyed Susan, Blue Ice Star Flower, Heavy Metal Switch Grass, and Spike Gayfeather.

“The I-70 planting project KIB is coordinating is the most ambitious native plant installation in the history of the city,” said Rebecca Dolan, director of the Friesner Herbarium and Butler University professor. “The well-vetted plant palette will bring four seasons of natural beauty to an industrial part of Indianapolis. It will provide food for pollinators, butterflies, birds, and other desirable wildlife, improving our urban ecology. These plants will also contribute significantly to the green infrastructure of Indianapolis by increasing water absorption and carbon sequestration, while improving air quality. What a benefit for everyone and everything in the city,” Dolan noted.

Public Art
A unique part of A Greener Welcome is the art; three sculptures are planned for the project and will be installed late in the fall pending approval from the Federal Highway Administration. Two students from the Herron School of Art and Design have been chosen to develop sculptures for the project, and a work by an established Indianapolis artist will help create a beautiful, lasting impression for residents and visitors.

  • At Harding Street, drivers will see a cluster of tall totems created by Jason Bord, a master of fine arts sculpture student. Bord used a chainsaw to carve the totems from 9- and 13-foot tall ash trees harvested from an Indiana farmer’s field. The unique carvings and the placement of the totems in the interchange will direct each viewer’s eye across the landscape.
  • At the West Street interchange, drivers will experience Blossom, a wave of colorful, lush lotus leaf forms designed by Shi-Fen Liu, a master of fine arts sculpture student. The colorful leaves are a large-scale installation of steel, polyester resin, and fiberglass.
  • The Meridian Street interchange will feature the work of local sculptor Biagio Azzarelli. Life Evolving depicts a ribonucleic acid (RNA) nucleotide molecule. Azzarelli is a Professor Emeritus in Neuropathology, Neurology, and Neurosurgery at Indiana University. Born in Santiago, Chile, he studied sculpture under the supervision of local artists.

Interchange Adopters
Six area businesses have adopted interchanges for A Greener Welcome. Their donations will fund the watering and maintenance of the new plants. Adopters include: DEEM – A Mechanical and Electrical Company, Duke Realty, Elanco, Indianapolis Colts, MS Companies, and RJE Knoll Business Interiors.

Project Partners
A project of this magnitude is possible only with the work and dedication of many organizations and individuals. Project partners for A Greener Welcome include: Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects, Cripe Architects + Engineers, Herron School of Art and Design (Basile Center for Art, Design, and Public Life), West Indianapolis Development Corporation, the Concord Community Development Corporation, American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, Indiana State Police, and the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

About Eli Lilly and Company
Lilly, a leading innovation-driven corporation, is developing a growing portfolio of pharmaceutical products by applying the latest research from its own worldwide laboratories and from collaborations with eminent scientific organizations. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., Lilly provides answers – through medicines and information – for some of the world’s most urgent medical needs. Additional information about Lilly is available at

About Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB)
KIB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit engaging neighborhoods in environmental and community improvement projects throughout the city. KIB has a proven track record of 30 years of partnership with neighborhoods, the public sector, local philanthropists, and Indianapolis corporations. Last year, KIB engaged more than 40,000 volunteers on more than 500 projects around the city. The mission of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. is to unite people to build community and transform public spaces through aesthetic and environmental improvement. Additional information about KIB is available

About Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT)
Our mission: INDOT will plan, build, maintain, and operate a superior transportation system enhancing safety, mobility, and economic growth. Additional information about INDOT, including traffic restrictions and conditions, is available at