Westfield Boulevard Bridge Over White River

Indianapolis News photo, 2 October 1974

1891. A steel bridge was built to cross the White River north of Broad Ripple on what was then called the Indianapolis & Westfield Free Gravel Road. As was typical of the time, the bridge crossed the White River at a 90 degree angle, making for the approaches, especially the southern approach, were a little tight. The bridge would be used until the city of Indianapolis would have to tear it down in 1977.

The bridge built in 1891 was a replacement for a bridge that had served for many years at the location. The road had been originally built as the Westfield State Road in the 1830’s. Later, in the late 1840’s, the road would be sold to a toll road company for maintenance and to become a turnpike. This would last until the late 1880’s, when it was purchased back by Marion County for the free use of travelers. It would still be the Free Gravel Road when the new bridge was built.

The original road would cross the river as shown in the 1972 aerial photograph above. The sudden right turn approaching the bridge from the south would later create a bottle neck that the State wanted to take care of…or just bypass altogether.

In the mid-1910’s, the old Westfield State Road would acquire a new name: the Range Line Road, an Auto-Trail that would connect Indianapolis to Kokomo and Peru through Westfield. The Range Line Road gained its name because it followed the survey line that separated Range 3 East and Range 4 East in the survey that divided Indiana into one mile square sections.

Another name was given to the road in 1917 – Main Market Road 1. This was the predecessor to State Road 1, which this became in 1919. This brought the Westfield Road, and its two lane bridge over White River into the state highway system. But it wouldn’t be long until the Indiana State Highway Commission discovered the errors in the naming of this route as a major State Road. While in Indianapolis, and up to what is now 86th Street (later SR 534/100), the road was winding and narrow.

Part of being part of the state highway system is that state roads are, with very few exceptions, automatically truck routes. And running trucks through Broad Ripple, even today, could best be described as “fun,” at least sarcastically. The old state road followed Westfield Boulevard from Meridian Street until it turned north in Broad Ripple…making the turn at Winthrop Avenue and the Monon Railroad tracks interesting. It also gets tight while hugging the White River.

The state would bypass this section of US 31 by building a new road straight north along the Meridian Street corridor. This caused a lot of protesting from the people of Carmel, fearing that their main drag, Range Line Road, would be left to rot, and travelers would be guided around the town. While US 31 bypassed this section, it would be given a replacement state road number: SR 431.

Meanwhile, the White River bridge lumbered on. By 1931, SR 431 was now using the facility. It would stay that way until the building of I-465…which would cause the state to move SR 431 from Westfield Boulevard to Keystone Avenue. The state’s maintenance of the White River bridge would end in 1968.

It didn’t take long for the bridge to fall into disrepair. By 1974, it was recommended to the city that the road and bridge be closed completely to traffic. If not immediately, at most within the next two years. The city would lower the weight limit to five tons in 1974. But this did not solve the pending problems with the bridge. In addition, around the 7300 block of Westfield, was another bridge over what is known as the “overflow channel,” a small White River cutoff north of the main channel of the river. The bridge over the overflow channel was in as bad or worse shape than the truss bridge in the 6700 block of Westfield.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel in the 7300 block of Westfield Boulevard.

The main bridge would be closed in 1977 for the building of a replacement of the facility. Business owners of Broad Ripple, as early as 1974, had been arguing for either fixing or replacing the bridge in place. Their discussions concerned the fact that straightening the road would allow for high speed traffic to come in through “Broad Ripple’s back door.” Keeping the tight and winding approaches to the White River bridge would slow traffic down before entering the neighborhood. Both ideas were continuously shot down by the city of Indianapolis, the owners of the facility. The City went so far as to recommending that Westfield Boulevard be closed between Broad Ripple Avenue and 75th Street, thus removing the need to replace the bridge altogether.

As it turned out, the bridge would be replaced. Or, more to the point, bypassed. The next photo, a 1978 aerial taken from MapIndy, shows the new bridge and the old bridge it replaced. The old bridge would be completely removed from aerial photos the following year.

1978 MapIndy aerial photograph showing the replacement Westfield Boulevard bridge over White River, and the location of the old bridge.

The new bridge would open on 12 June 1978. But the road wouldn’t. In an example of just fantastic government planning, the Overflow Channel bridge would be closed in either August or September of 1978 for replacement. This would cause the new bridge to be used for only local traffic until the following year, 1979, when the new overflow channel bridge would be completed.

1993 aerial MapIndy photograph showing the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel (7300 block of Westfield Boulevard). Also shown is the abandoned Monon Railroad, prior to the creation of the Monon Trail.

With the opening of the Overflow Channel bridge, Westfield Boulevard was opened again for traffic from Broad Ripple to Nora…and hence north to the downtowns of Carmel and Westfield. While reaching downtown Westfield using the old road has become more difficult with the redesign of US 31 through Hamilton County, it still can be followed on maps – and for the most part in cars, as well.

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