PWA Road Projects in Indiana

During the Great Depression, following the stock market crash of October 1929, the voters of the United States decided to head in a new direction when it came to leadership in Washington, DC. This led, in 1932, to the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who promised to get the nation back on track economically using the power of the Federal government. That, in turn, led to many programs designed to pump money into local economies. One of those programs was the Public Works Administration, or PWA. Through the PWA, quite a bit of infrastructure was financed throughout the country. Road projects were high on that list.

I already covered some of those projects from 1933 in Marion County (see 1933: Public Works Road Projects of Marion County, Part I and 1933: Public Works Road Projects of Marion County, Part II). But there were projects all over the state that were under the PWA umbrella. I would like to focus on some of those today.

In Spring 1934, 75 men were hired to perform work on both US 40 and US 27 in the Richmond area. The majority of those hired, 50 to be exact, were to work on US 40. The rest for US 27, although the Richmond Item of 23 March 1934 lists that road as Indiana 27. (For an explanation of that, see US Highways: They are actually State Roads.) Maintenance and widening of the berms were part of this project that was supposed to last all summer. Payroll was to be covered by both state and Federal funding.

Another project, announced in October 1935, concerned the relocation of SR 44 between Shelbyville and Rushville. SR 44 was a road that was full of turns, having followed county roads already in place when it was created. Bids for grading the new route, which would run along the south side of the Pennsylvania Railroad connecting the two cities, started that October. It would consist of two project areas, running from the edge of the two cities to a point 1/2 mile east of Manilla. Wages on the Shelby County project would be from 37.5 to 54 cents. The Rush County project would have a pay scale between 35 and 49 cents.

Work on SR 13 in Hamilton County was also a project for the PWA. At that time, SR 13 through Hamilton County followed the Allisonville Road (old SR 37) to north of Noblesville, then the SR 37 and SR 213 corridor to the Hamilton-Tipton County line. Unfortunately, what made this project worthy of being listed in the Noblesville Ledger of 25 January 1934 is not the work being done, but the funds running out and the pending unemployment of the 300 men working on the project. Due to Federal project employment quotas, these men couldn’t just be moved to another project in the area.

While not a project, per se, it should be noted that not all of the money dispensed under the auspices of the PWA for road projects went to the state highway system. It is estimated that approximately 25% of the money went to more local road projects. This was especially true in Indiana with its relative lack of state maintained routes compared to other surrounding states. It should also be noted that PWA funds for these projects wasn’t just an outlay of cash from Washington. Most of the PWA funds were loans, in the form of purchased municipal bonds.

While I basically only covered three of the projects that were designed to pump money into the economy, there are many more that can be found if you look hard enough. The Great Depression era covered over a decade, but it wasn’t all malaise for that time. There was a recovery period followed by another downturn. World War II, and preparation for such, finally kicked the last vestiges of that financial horror out the door. And led Indiana to more and more road projects to be discussed later.

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