In 1962, plans were laid to create an expressway connecting Weir Cook Municipal Airport on the west side to Interstate 74 on the east side. The project was projected to cost $15 million. It would be run along the Raymond Street corridor, including new interchanges, widened roads, and new bridges. $7.5 million dollars was announced in the city’s plans in 1959. (Source: Indianapolis News, 29 December 1959) The plan was presented to the Indianapolis Board of Public Works on 08 March 1962.
Raymond Street is a survey line two miles south of the central line through Indianapolis (closest to Washington Street) and three miles south of the geographic center of Marion County (known as 10th Street). The plans presented to the board only covered the stretch from Belmont Avenue to Interstate 74. Plans west of Belmont Avenue hadn’t been nailed down as of the writing of the presented report. It was mentioned in the Indianapolis Star of 8 March 1962 that the proposed expressway would connect to the proposed Bradbury Street Expressway that was being built to connect the Airport to Interstate 465.
A big part of the proposed expense for the expressway was going to be for right-of-way acquisition. The plan called for a road that included four 12-foot lanes and a 16-foot divider strip. The first section of the planned expressway that was opened, but not as an expressway, from west of Kentucky Avenue to Harding Street would be built south of the then Raymond Street. The report states that the north side of Raymond Street would remain as it was at the time in 1962. The pictured section below was opened on 7 March 1967 according to the Indianapolis News of that day. This section cost $800,000.
The original plan called for a diamond interchange at Harding Street. Harding Street was to be an overpass of Raymond Street. From Harding Street east, the right-of-way would be taken from the north side of Raymond Street. That would continue to Churchman Avenue. A new interchange would be built at Madison Avenue, and a new bridge over Pleasant Run. From Churchman, the right of way would include, according to plan, both sides of the road. Underpasses at the New York Central tracks, east of Sherman Drive, would be replaced with one large overpass. The end of the expressway would be at Southeastern Avenue, which would carry traffic to I-74 near the Marion County Fairgrounds.
Raymond Street became a bone of contention between the state and the city when Interstate 65 was being planned. The Department of Highways decided, when laying out the interchange plan for the new highway, that the ramps to Raymond Street would be three lanes wide. This caused a problem because Raymond Street was, at that time, still only two lanes wide. “If this occurs ‘you will have a mess,’ according to Assistant City Engineer John A. Mascari.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 13 February 1968) The solution would be to make Raymond Street six lanes wide from State to East Streets. The cost of the project was estimated to be between $450,00 and $500,000. The city didn’t own the right of way, and also didn’t have the money to do the work.
As it turned out, the right of way for the expanded Raymond Street, which ended up being built as just a widened city street, would be taken mostly from the south side of the street. There were two underpasses east of Sherman Drive. These were dangerous situations, since they were actually single lane in each direction with a large bridge stanchion in the middle. By 1979, the new Raymond Street main thoroughfare was complete from White River west and Shelby Street east. Between those two points, most of Raymond Street was still a three lane street. No interchanges were built, although access to White River Parkway/West Street would be via access roads below and beside a high level bridge over the river. The section between Meridian and Shelby Streets would be complete by 1993. The rest would be done by 1995.
What started as the Bradbury Street Expressway became known as Raymond Expressway before its name was changed to Airport Expressway. News reports have that change from Raymond to Airport being in 1969. But the picture below shows INDOH signs in 1976. And the section from Holt Road to Kentucky Avenue didn’t open until November 1980. It ended, before that time, at Holt Road and Kelly Street. When the airport moved its terminal to the other side of the property, it became Sam Jones Expressway.