In the early days of the State Highway Commission, constant reconstruction and bypassing of the then state roads was happening. While that construction was going on, the state posted detours around this expansion of this highway system to allow travelers to complete their journeys. It is the same today, but it is quite different.
Today, a detour of a segment of a state highway requires (generally) that said detour be routed along those highways that belong to the state. This is brought home is grand scale with the recent closure of I-465 on the south and east sides of Indianapolis. The posted detour, officially recognized by INDOT, required drivers to go through downtown Indianapolis using I-70 and I-65. So, in essence, the detour funneled a lot of traffic, using the bypass to go around the city to avoid major congestion, through the city into major congestion. This also requires a long, out of the way, route to go what would normally be a short distance.
Part of this is created by the fact that INDOT is restricted in the amount of state highway mileage they can maintain. In Indianapolis, this is compounded by the fact that there are no state roads inside the I-465 loop, with the exceptions of I-65 and I-70. But in the rural sections of the state, this gets to be even worse. Let’s take SR 44 between Franklin and Shelbyville as an example. If that road is closed, the detour would, generally, be I-65 to I-465, then I-74 to SR 9 or SR 46. So, to get from Franklin to Shelbyville, by official detour, takes twice the time and is twice the distance of the route between the two cities.
When the state highway system was being instituted, this was not the policy. Funnily, this was due to the size of the system at the time. There were not as many state roads at the time. Also, the number of high quality roads was limited. So a long bypass would have been exhausting.
In 1926, for instance, a bypass of SR 29 between Indianapolis and Shelbyville, under the current policy, would have been impossible. Shelbyville was only served by one state road at the time…that being SR 29. SR 44 only connected Liberty to Connersville. SR 9 didn’t run south of US 40 in Greenfield. So the detour would have required drivers to go north on SR 3 out of Rushville to US 40. Talk about a very long way out of the way.
Detours at the time would use small sections county roads present at the time. This kept travels to a minimum. But, as a general rule, the state did its best to keep even detours a minimum, as well. Unless the road was being completely reconstructed, the ISHC maintained traffic through areas of construction. If a bridge was being either built or replaced, construction crews would usually build a drive around in place, allowing traffic to be maintained as much as possible.
Newspapers of the times, especially between 1920 and 1940, published very detailed lists of detours on the state highway system. These were usually published once a week, with the first part of the report covering detours that have been removed.
Today, the long detours can be a lot more tolerable. Roads are in much better shape. Vehicles are much more reliable. Speeds are higher, as well. It makes for longer trips, yes. But, as the example in the second paragraph portrayed, using the local roads made things unbearable. Local traffic would use major north-south roads to go around the closed sections of I-465. And trust me, this created more headaches than it was worth. And to be honest, those two weeks made me want to change jobs so I didn’t have to deal with it. I am glad it was only two weeks.