The Indiana Toll Road(s)

Indiana, due to its location, has always been a vital cog in the transportation facilities of the United States. This is obvious when it comes to the Auto Trails age and the highways age. Indiana has been connected to the east coast, Florida, the Mississippi Delta, the Great Plains, and beyond, due to its location on the Auto Trail/US Highway system. But one road in the state shows a connection dependence like no other in Indiana: The Indiana Toll Road.

Any discussion of the “Indiana East-West Toll Road,” its official title, must start with a highway hundreds of miles to the east that opened on 01 October 1940: The Pennsylvania Turnpike. If there ever was a more telling transportation facility of the triumph of cars and trucks over railroads, the “Pike” (what locals call the Pennsylvania Turnpike) is it. Heck, the original section was built on an old railroad right-of-way! The Pennsylvania Turnpike would connect to the Ohio Turnpike in December 1954. The following October, the Ohio Turnpike was completed from the Indiana state line to the Pennsylvania state line. Next came Indiana.

The law creating the Toll Road Commission was passed in 1951, as “Chapter 281, Acts of 1951, page 848.” There was some question about the constitutionality of the law creating the commission. The Indiana Supreme Court settled the question with an unanimous decision handed down on 17 November 1952. The stated reason for the act was to allow Indiana to create a new type of high speed, safer highway: “emboying safety devices, including center division, ample shoulder widths, long-sight distances, multiple lanes in each direction, and grade separations at intersections with other highways and railroads.” (Source: Angola Herald [Angola, Indiana], 03 December 1952, pp 15) Also included in the law was the fact that the Governor must approve the location, with the Indiana State Highway Commission approving alignment and design. The act specifically stated that the Toll Road Commission (ITRC) was “authorized and empowered to construct, maintain, repair and operate toll road projects at such locations as shall be approved by the Governor.” This sounds like the ITRC was allowed to build more than one such road. Since this would happen before the creation of the interstate system in 1956, with basically the same design standards, this makes sense.

It was reported in the Munster, Indiana, Times of 23 October 1953 that the route for the toll road had been set, encompassing 156 miles across northern Indiana. The total cost of the project was expected to be $218 million. The details of the road were reported as “it will be dual lane, separated by grass strips, 156.06 miles long connecting the state lines (Ohio and Illinois) north of Angola and in northwest Hammond. It will be between the Michigan border and U.S. 20.” This route was not without controversies. Some of these included the closing of county roads along the route.

Groundbreaking at South Bend was celebrated 21 September 1954. The Ohio Turnpike had already turned into a successful venture. With the completion of the road, at least to South Bend, it was hoped it would be more so. And, yes. Yes it was. When the Indiana Toll Road opened in 1956, traffic in Ohio skyrocketed.

As mentioned above, the law creating the ITRC allowed for more than just the northern Indiana extension to the Ohio & Pennsylvania Turnpikes. The first such project was a “north-south toll road proposed to begin in the Calumet and end within five miles of Lizton in Hendricks County.” This project was, ultimately, surveyed by the ITRC. But the law creating this project had even more constitutional battles. Mainly, the requirement that the ITRC also improver both SR 100 and US 136 as freeway feeders to the new route. It was that specific requirement with which some legislators had problems. Before the 1851 Constitution, the General Assembly passed hundreds of these “special acts.” Those led to the constitutional rewrite.

The second proposed toll road would have connected Vincennes to Lawrenceburg across southern Indiana. Basically, a limited access replacement for US 50. There was a third proposal for a toll road, connecting Fort Wayne to the East-Wet Toll Road with a 45 mile highway. In the end, these roads were eliminated by the pending interstate system. The US 50 route would never be built as it was not considered for part of the interstates. The closest that came to being is I-64, but that actually was more an upgrade for US 60 for most of the route.

The Terre Haute Star of 28 October 1960 reports that, at the time, there were 85.8 miles of interstate highways in Indiana, with the 157 mile East-West Toll Road to “become a part of the interstate system, but it was built with bonds before the federal interstate program was started.” It should be noted that the toll road from Chicago to Philadelphia was originally designated some form of I-80. In Indiana, and most of Ohio, it was I-80. West of Youngstown, Ohio, it became I-80S. That designation would be replaced with the number I-76.

I have decided to end the discussion of the Toll Road with the building of the facility. Many changes have happened over the 60+ years since it was opened. It still seems fairly busy, at least that what it looks like when I visit South Bend. South Bend also has one of the longest interchange ramps I have ever seen on a limited access highway. The connector from the toll road to (now old) US 31 comes in at about one mile. I have no idea why…one would assume it has to do with the University of Notre Dame, which is right across SR 933 (Business 31) from the end of the ramp. I don’t know. If any of you are privy to such information, I would LOVE to know. You know…that whole curiosity thing.

As an aside, I find it ironic that the Indiana East-West Toll Road, with its counterparts in Ohio and Pennsylvania, would almost directly rival, and help end, the state named railroad based in Philadelphia. With the three state toll road, it was possible to compete directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad “Broadway Limited” that ran from Philadelphia (actually, New York City…but that’s not on the turnpikes) to Chicago. And I would bet do it both faster and cheaper. Just another nail in the coffin of the railroads in the United States, or at least the passenger railroads.

6 thoughts on “The Indiana Toll Road(s)

  1. My first trip on the Toll Road was in 1971 when I was 4. We went to visit my dad’s best friend who was living temporarily in New York State. We drove at night. I remember being utterly fascinated by the signage. The roadgeekery, it starts early.

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  2. When in the planning stages, I-69 was looked at as a toll road from Bloomington to Evansville.
    Also, with the governor having the authority to roll an interstate now, more toll roads are definitely on the horizon in Indiana.

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    1. The one thing that holds the Governor back in doing that is the fact that the Feds have to approve tolling the interstate, since they provided 90% of the funding. It has been very hard to get that approval. Pennsylvania has tried three times to toll I-80…to no avail. To the point that the PTC has been bleeding money to help pay PENNDOT’S bills.

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