Dunes Highway and the Dunes Relief Road

Near the end of the 1910’s and into the early 1920’s, as the Indiana State Highway System began to really take shape, an important road the skirted Indiana’s northern shore became part of the all important road system. Prior to 1920, it had been known nationally, at least according to Rand McNally, as the “Detroit-Chicago Pike.” That name was given to the road between the two title cities, and the road stayed in Michigan for as long as possible before dipping into Indiana. Locally, however, it was known for years as both the Old Chicago-Detroit Pike or, more recently, the Dunes Highway.

When the Dunes Highway was taken into the state highway system in 1920, it was given the number 43. One of the things that made the original State Road 43 different is that by 1923, with the first renumbering of state roads in Indiana, SR 43 was completely paved from the Illinois State Line to the Michigan State Line. Only one other road in Indiana was paved for its entire route through the state – State Road 3, or the National Road. The Dunes Highway was 18 feet wide for its journey through Indiana. At the time, that was tight, but it was pretty much standard for road widths in the early 1920’s.

When the Great Renumbering occurred on 1 October 1926, the Dunes Highway was given a United States Highway designation…two of them, as a matter of fact. The entire route was numbered US 12, since that was the number given to the route connecting Chicago to Detroit, which this route had done since its early history. The other number that the road acquired, from Gary to Michigan City, was US 20.

It wasn’t long before Indiana State Highway Commission officials, and local officials along the Dunes Highway, figured out that tourist traffic coming along two major US Highways was swamping the narrow passage that formed the highway. In September 1930, plans were put in place to fix the situation. Well, sort of.

The plan would cost $2,000,000 for a road 30 miles long and 40 feet wide. The new route would connect Gary to the Indiana-Michigan State Line, generally located between 1/2 and 1 1/2 mile south of the Dunes Highway. The new road would be given the name “Dunes Relief Road.” The plan would be to move US 20 to the new road upon completion, with a new state road number given to the eastern end of the new road that connected the then US 20 (Michigan Road) east of Michigan City to US 12 just south of the state line. This new road would be called SR 212.

Snippet from the Indiana Official Highway Map of 1 August 1930. This map was essentially the 1931 Official, although it was labelled 1930. This map shows the Under Construction status of the Dunes Relief Road between Springville and Chesterton, and shows the authorized addition of the continuation of the road to Gary.

The Indiana Official Highway Map of 1930, Late Edition (there were two maps issued in 1930, one for January, and one for August), shows construction already marked for the pending road. The Dunes Relief Road would bypass Michigan City to the south and the east. Since it would become US 20, a major US highway, the thought was that this would take major traffic off of city streets in Michigan City. And that in itself was a bone of contention for those in charge in the area.

Michigan City saw itself, rightly so, penalized by the removal of the major traffic of US 20. In late March 1932, preliminary approval was given to two bond issues by Michigan City to widen US 12 east and west of the city to 40 feet. East of the city, the newly widened US 12 would connect to the newly finished Dunes Relief Road at SR 212 near Springville. The ISHC was looking forward to such a development, since the state commission had, to that point in history, no jurisdiction on any road inside limits of any town or city in the state. State highways connected the towns…from the limits of that town to the limits of the next town. It was up to the city in question to improve a route, chosen by the city, to become the state highway through the area in question. This would change shortly after this, when the ISHC was allowed to take over city streets for maintenance. (Source: Porter County Vidette-Messenger, 29 March 1932)

At the western end of the new planned road, Gary’s Mayor, Roswell O. Johnson, referred to the new route as the “Grief Road.” Since it would connect back to the Dunes Highway at the Gary city limits, it was thought that no relief of traffic would be realized by Gary and Hobart. Both of those cities, as well as other local officials, were in favor of a superhighway called the “Three-State Highway,” connecting LaPorte to Gary, and along the southern edges of Gary and Hammond. A delegation of local officials appeared to approve at a rate of 90% the building of the Three State Highway. ISHC officials were unmoved. Detailed plans had been completed, and contracts were let for the original planned Dunes Relief Road. (Source: Munster Times, 18 September 1930)

Things with the Dunes Relief Highway got a little dicey in Pine Township, Porter County, five miles west of Michigan City. The Michigan Central Railroad was being encouraged to build a viaduct along the new Dunes Relief Road over their tracks. According to the railroad, the viaduct was being held up by the crossing of Schmidt Road, which was 400 feet west of the proposed viaduct site. Porter County officials wanted nothing to do with closing the road. As a matter of fact, a survey was being done on two miles of Schmidt Road for plans to improve the route. It was pointed out that a) the only way the road would be closed is by ruling of the Indiana Public Service Commission (since it involved a railroad) and b) people living along Schmidt Road preferred the Dunes Highway route to Michigan City over the pending Dunes Relief Highway. (Source: South Bend Tribune, 22 November 1931)

The new US 20/SR 212 would find itself completed by 1932…or least according to Indiana Official Highway Maps. The Dunes Relief Road is still being used today, called the Gary-Michigan City Highway on Google Maps. Most of the route today appears to be four or five lanes wide. Both the Dunes Highway and the Dunes Relief Road serve their functions quite well almost a century later.

4 thoughts on “Dunes Highway and the Dunes Relief Road

  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this article. We had been attempting to find this info and Route 20’s original alignment. This will definitely help in our mapping. I am trying to ascertain the original route in Michigan City, which now appears to have come in on Michigan Blvd all the way to the intersection with US 12, then westbound.
    We had been working with Michigan City to bring the Historic Route alignment into the city but needed some verification.

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  2. My grandfather, a heavy equipment operator (and staunch Union of Operating Engineers man-his local was in Gary) worked on this road. 212 is still there, just a short stretch. There was a drive-in theater (called the 212!) on it that we went to when I was a kid, long gone. A little over a year ago
    I had to give a talk in Michigan City and stayed at a 50s-era motel a little north of the 212/12 junction, still in Indiana.

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  3. I’ve always wondered about the history of US 20 here. A tweak: Springville is actually on the Michigan Road, about where the word Springville ends on the map. It’s at the intersection of MR and SR 39. 212 begins between Long Beach and Indiana Shores.

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