Interstate Plans in Indianapolis

Much has been made about an idea in the early 1960’s bringing Interstate 69 to downtown Indianapolis. Many people believe that having the I-69 route connecting directly to downtown would alleviate much of the congestion that occurs on I-70 and I-465 with people trying to get back and forth to locations northeast of the heart of the city. I am of a different view on that perception. But that’s neither here or there at this point. But the idea of the “Interstate 169” wasn’t the first such plan that was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads.

It should be noted that the original plan for the entire interstate system was to provide access routes between cities for National Defense purposes. The law of 1956 creating the system was later relaxed to allow for the highways to “conform more to the needs of the various communities.” This change would allow for the interstate system to serve the public, as well as the Defense Department. So, when originally created, Interstates 65, 69, 70, and 74 would get you in the general direction of Indianapolis…not completely to the city itself. After the relaxation of the rules, the plan in 1965 called for the system to include “I-465 (the outer loop); an inner loops comprised of I-65 and I-70, both stretching beyond the county boundaries; I-74 which connects with the northwest and southeast edges of the outer loop, and I-69 which joins the northeast corner of the outer loop.” (Indianapolis Star, 06 November 1965)

It should also be noted here that the original plan for the end of I-69 was very different. The original route of I-69 was planned to connect to a point on Interstate 70 near 21st Street and German Church Road. This would have brought the interstate through the Geist area to connect to a point in Hamilton County in the area of 126th Street and where I-69 is today. Travel to downtown would have been much different had this plan been put into place.

Anyone that has looked at the “north split” of Interstates 65 and 70 can tell that there was more to the plan than what exists. There are bridges over ghost ramps, and ghost ramps, that were started and left to rot. The Indiana State Highway Commission had pushed for the idea of connecting the northeastern part of Marion County to the interstate system very early. The push was a continuation of I-69. But one thing that most people don’t take into consideration is that all of the interstate plans had to be approved by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, since the Feds were footing most of the bill.

One of the first modifications to the original plan to cut down on the costs was to combine interstates 65 and 69 north out of downtown. The Indianapolis News of 15 May 1962 reported that “I-65 and I-69 Routes in City Get Restudy.” The original plan, and the one that was ultimately built, brought I-65 across the 12th Street corridor to meet I-70 coming in from the east side. The original plan for I-69 was to have it end in the northeastern of the county, as it does. The I-69 plan, added to by the state and city officials as a wish, was to leave due north from the north split, then turn northeast to meet with the Fall Creek Parkway corridor between 30th and 38th Streets.

A plan submitted to the Bureau of Public Roads wold have brought I-65 across the city along, roughly, the 30th Street corridor to meet I-69, then turn south to meet I-70 near 12th Street. This new plan would, in theory, reduce the cost of building the interstates by $4.8 million. This new study was “prompted by the federal bureau, which questioned whether I-65 and I-69 should parallel each other.” The study was submitted to the Chicago regional office of the Bureau on 15 May 1962. It was expected to be rule on by that summer.

The Bureau of Public Roads questioned the necessity and cost of bringing Interstate 69 into the downtown area. Even with the new duplex plan. But by July, the Bureau had verbally denied teh idea. The state was considering an appeal of the decision. The Indianapolis News of 14 August 1962 reported that the state was submitting a request to end I-69 just south of Castleton if the plan to bring it downtown was not approved. The state, if they couldn’t get a route to downtown, determined that travelers would be better served if I-69 would connect to a point near the two legs of SR 100 (82nd Street and Shadeland Avenue) where I-465 would be built. This would bring motorists to the SR 37 corridor, which was built in the mid 1950’s, allowing access to downtown. Another thought was that the new plan would allow for continuation of the highway, should it be approved at a later date, to downtown instead of ending it on the far eastside.

The request in August was submitted because the plans being mulled over by the Bureau was delaying engineering work on the entire highway system. Such work had been stalled to allow for any changes to be implemented. Without those changes forthcoming, nothing was getting done. The state was anxious to get the ball rolling when it came to the interstate system in Marion County.

The state had, according to the Indianapolis News of 25 October 1968, asked for more interstate mileage. One project was, again, the much wanted, and often denied, Northeast Expressway project as an extension of I-69. As pointed out in the article, the tri-level interchange at the north split was also planned, and adding I-69 to the mix wouldn’t require any type of redesign. Another project would connect the south leg of I-465 to I-65 near 38th Street along roughly the Harding Street corridor on the city’s west side. This project would have also contained an extension of I-65 across the 12th Street corridor to connect to the new Harding Street highway. And yet another project was asked to be added at that time would be a connector route across the 30th Street corridor connecting I-65 to the asked for I-69. These expansions, called “the first formal request for additional interstate mileage since the birth of the expressways about 12 years ago,” were shot down…at least the Indianapolis projects. (There were other requests at that time, and I will cover those later.)

I have seen news stories about the possibility of bringing Interstate 74 from Speedway to downtown. That project never got past the city recommendation stage. It would have connected to the extended 12th Street corridor of I-65, then aiming toward the interchange with I-465 on the northwest side. This was in conjunction with a requested change in the I-65 route from downtown to 38th Street. The proposed change would have had I-65 moved to west of White River, to follow the route of the proposed SR 37 (Harding Street) Expressway. (Indianapolis Star, 26 August 1965) The 12th Street corridor would have been extended to west of White River, then I-65 would turn roughly north along the Lafayette Road corridor, behind Marian College (University) to 38th Street. Before turning north, the “future I-74” would connect to I-65’s proposed route. None of these plans, obviously, came to fruition.

8 thoughts on “Interstate Plans in Indianapolis

  1. My understanding at the time was that demise of the I-69 extension to the inner loop was vetoed by then Sen. Birch Bayh. Many inner city neighborhoods would have been demolished, similar to the fate of several on the near Southside. The consulting engineers I worked with at the time warned that we’d need that extension in 20 years, and so we do. And do it goes.

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  2. There is NO way now to extend 74 or 69 into the city. Too disruptive to neighborhoods that have revived or reorganized around the existing interstates and those were terribly disruptive to the city neighborhoods structure at that time. IMHO, One thing that would help city residents And donut counties access and egress, that I think could be done without too much disruption is more exit only exits from 465 onto arterials both in and out of the city. For instance On the Northside exits only at Ditch Rd/Spring Mill Rd/ possibly westfield. On Southside more exits between SR 37 and East St. Lots of local traffic could come off of 465 sooner than it does this way. You could even make some of them passenger vehicle only exits, no commercial trucks to exit there.

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  3. — There was a lot of squabbling, but Indianapolis did end up with a very well thought out plan for modern automobiles, however in the 1970’s the US Media turned the cities against autos, so progress slowed to a stall …. The North Side had three proposed routes to access the downtown. Heavy commerce, Retail, and Residential each had their own route. 1) Binford Boulevard is a limited access, freeway grade, divided highway, that was designed to quickly move Heavy commerce down to the I-65/70 North Split. 2) Keystone is a four lane, curb divided, timed traffic light, expressway, that is designed to quickly move Retail traffic down to I-70. 3) Meridian is a four lane expressway designed to quickly move Residential traffic to the Circle …. The forefathers designed things, so that the satellite cities of Carmel, Fishers, Zionsville, Brownburg, Avon Plainfield, Etc. could quickly access the Downtown, so that those people would come downtown to spend their money, which would keep the city prospering. Unfortunately Indianapolis fell into a Bad Spell during the 1970’s and they have never pulled out of it. Progress stalled. My grandpa Lewis Whittall was a senior US Highway Engineer. He knew the plans well. With Sincerity, Doug Hepler.

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    1. — The Feds were willing to pay for the bulk of the Improvements, and they even spent tons of money laying the local ground work, so that it would be easy for the State to do it’s part. I will list one of many many examples …. On both the east side and the west side the Feds widened 56th Street to four lanes and connected it to Kessler Blvd. All the city had to do was too make Kessler into four lanes and it would be a beautiful Expressway for people to get back and forth on …. but here we are 20 years into the Millennium and Indianapolis still hasn’t finished the project 😦

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  4. Love reading this history. Still upsetting how the city and fed planners screwed the far southside and northern Johnson county from future development. Only went South to Thompson Rd. The original planning of Indy favored the Northside from the start. The development of the South would never rival the North. Just look at today.

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    1. It wasn’t the city or the Feds, actually. The reason that 465 is where it is is due to the fact that it was a replacement for SR 100, which on the south side was planned to go along the Thompson Road corridor. That was the plan I. 1932 when it was first brought up. And to be honest, this area of Indiana has historically had a bias against the south side…even when the town of Indianapolis was planned. Just south of the mile square was nothing but a swamp for quite a distance.

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    2. — Hi John, I work on the south side. Development seems to be booming down there. US-37 has been a little slow to grow southward, but SR-135 and US 31 are growing faster than the State can come up with funding to improve the road to four lanes, but I agree Carmel on the north side seems to know how to grow best. Hope all is well with you, Doug.

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