Building I-465 at West 21st Street

When the interstate system worked its way to Indiana, the plan for a bypass around Indianapolis was on the books as part of the project. Even before the route numbers were nailed down, the destinations and relative locations were in place. What would become I-465 would take almost a decade to build – more if you count the section from I-65 to I-865 on the northwest side of Marion County. (For more information about that statement, see “The Beginning of I-465,” published on 16 May 2019.) But I-465 was contentious…and not entirely for the reasons one would think.

Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1961.

The first real bone of contention (other than the coming destruction of entire sections of Marion County) was the area where I-465 and 21st Street meet on the west side. The section of the current interstate from Crawfordsville Road south to almost 10th Street runs very close to Big Eagle Creek. The town of Speedway at the time suffered from flooding on a regular basis. The state planned for 21st Street to cross over the interstate. Local residents, and county government, wanted the opposite…the interstate to cross over 21st Street. Part of the argument was that the state had already planned to elevate sections of the road on both sides of 21st Street. Why not keep the elevation for the 21st Street section.

Part of the argument was flooding…or the potential for such. People in the town of Speedway were under the impression that running 21st Street under the interstate would form a valve to keep flooding to a minimum. As the Indianapolis Star pointed out in an editorial piece on 24 August 1961, “nothing could be further from the truth.” The interstate was graded far above the maximum flood level at Eagle Creek. The building of an underpass for 21st Street, it is pointed out, would require a complete new system of levees to be built to control the flooding of 21st Street. The problem for Speedway and flooding was not an interstate overpass, but major work needed on Eagle Creek.

It was pointed out in another article that the plans for I-465 included, in the embankment for the bridges, four channels for water to flow through the area not actually in Eagle Creek. The Indianapolis Star of 9 July 1961 reported that Joseph I. Perrey, chief engineer for the Indiana Flood Control and Water Resources Commission, stated that no matter what was built at I-465 and 21st Street, the problem with Speedway flooding was more controlled by the 21st Street bridge over Eagle Creek. “The construction of 21st Street either under or over Interstate 465 will have no affect in stopping flooding.” Mr. Perrey continued “but a new county bridge could alleviate the situation somewhat.”

Progress was made towards changing the state’s mind about the 21st Street overpass. Summer of 1961 saw a flurry of activity. The state agreed to change the project, if the county put up a $50,000 bond to cover any cost overruns due to the change. The deadline for the county agreeing to that provision, and thus the contract to change the plans, was 21 August 1961. County Commissioners agreed to sign the deal that day, if they could include a provision to delay the posting of the bond. By law, the county said, it would take five days to make the money available.

But the State Highway Commission was also in a bind at this point. Construction had reached a point where concrete was ready to pour. Any delay in that poring could have resulted in the contractor suing the state. In addition to the changing of 21st Street from an overpass to an underpass, the county was asking that 21st Street be built four lanes wide, instead of two, to “avoid a greater expenditure if 21st must be widened later.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 21 August 1961)

The whole thing was made worse when the county questioned the state about the current status of the contract. (Source: Indianapolis Star, 8 September 1961) “The State Highway Commission yesterday refused the ‘bait’ offered by the Marion County Board of Commissioners to cancel the contract obligating the county commissioners to pay for the time the state suspended operations on Interstate 465.” The state was expected to send the county a bill for the six day shutdown of construction on the interstate due to the county trying to raise the bond money. The county, for its part, wanted the contract to be declared cancelled…which the state wasn’t having.

Add to this, the county stating that they weren’t paying anything until a full accounting was relayed to them. They expected it to be, roughly, $1,000 a day, not the $25,000 the State Highway Commission expected.

Meanwhile, the whole decision to build a 21st Street bridge over I-465 was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads. That investigation started when three local residents accused the Highway Commissioner of conflict of interest, and hinted that his three sons would benefit from the building of an overpass. Indications were that libel suits would start flying from the Commissioner’s sons once cleared by the Federal investigation.

“The controversy over the intersection of I-465 and 21st Street was started by Jules T. Gradison who owns the land around the intersection. He demanded that 21st Street pass under I-465 and the state agreed to the change when the county commissioners offered to pay the extra cost, estimated at from $150,000 to $200,000.” Mr. Gradison also pointed out that he would have given any extra acreage needed to change the plan free of charge.

21st Street crosses over I-465 to this day. The overpass is also, to this day, only two lanes wide. With the many reconstructions of I-465 through that area, the 21st Street overpass has allowed for the widening of 465 needed over the years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s