I-74 in SE Marion County

When the interstate system started its “invasion” of Indiana, one of the first highways built was the “minor” interstate numbered 74. Construction started within three years of the passing of the law creating the interstate system. The section in southeastern Marion County was one of the first specifically built interstates in Indiana.

Indianapolis Star, 21 June 1959. Franklin Road bridge over I-74
Google Maps, 23 May 2019. Franklin Road bridge over I-74

Most of the routing of I-74 through southeastern Marion County was along a new path north of Southeastern Avenue, then US 421, which the new limited access highway would replace. According to the Indianapolis Star of 21 June 1959, “huge overpasses arise out of cornfield, barns disappear in a day’s time and hills are chewed into flatlands by the monster machines that build roads to modern standards.” The article mentions that the section in question is six miles long, starting just east of Arlington Avenue.

The sheer size of the construction is also mentioned. “The finished road will have four 12-foot lanes of concrete divided by a 60-foot strip, with 10-foot asphalt outside shoulders, 4-foot inside paved shoulders and no crossings at grade. The engineers expect it to be fast, safe and enduring.”

Paving of the new six mile highway section was planned to be complete in the fall of 1959. The problem was that an opening date still hadn’t been set, as there were two bridge contracts that hadn’t been let. The ISHC at the time, and I believe that INDOT follows the same pattern, let the road construction and bridge construction separately. Looking at aerial photos of highway construction, one will notice that bridges were sometimes completed long before there was a road to use it. One such bridge is the I-74 bridge over I-465. I-74 was open several years before I-465 was built that far.

As was standard with ISHC interstate construction at the time, the bridges across I-74 in this section would be (mostly) concrete arch bridge. (See both the above and below pictures.) A few of these original bridges still exist along this original section of the interstate.

Indianapolis Star, 21 June 1959. Hunter Road bridge over the I-74 connector road between I-465 and Southeastern Avenue east of Arlington Avenue.

Newspapers reported that 19.856 miles of Interstate 74 between Southeastern Avenue and SR 9 at Shelbyville were open by 28 October 1960, with the next 2.46 miles to SR 44 (again, at Shelbyville) to be open soon after. One newspaper mentions that I-74 would be completed in several years to Cincinnati, shortening the time by at least one-third. The strange thing was that I-74 left Indianapolis via US 421, while the direct route before the coming of the interstate system between Indianapolis and Cincinnati was US 52 (which I-74 replaced near the Indiana-Ohio state line).

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