Indianapolis Interstates, Planning and Replanning

EDITOR’S NOTE: This entry is for reporting of history, not to choose sides in the planning of the interstate system in downtown Indianapolis. It is merely my intention to report on what happened.

When the first vestiges of the interstate system was being laid down, the plan to connect downtown Indianapolis to the entire system came up immediately. As I covered in the post “Interstate Plans in Indianapolis,” it was already decided, and approved by local, state and federal officials, that the two “major” interstates (65 and 70) would come downtown, while the two “minor” interstates (69 and 74) would connect to the outer loop interstate (465). All that was left were the details.

And as they say, nothing is set in stone until it is set in concrete. Such is the case with the “Inner Loop,” that section of the downtown interstate which is shared by both I-65 and I-70. The rough route of Interstate 70 has basically been decided through the city. Exact details would come later. But Interstate 65 would be a sticking point in the whole plan. The plan approved by local, state and federal officials would be debated for several years.

It came to a head in summer of 1965, when politicians started becoming involved in the routing of I-65…and the building of the inner loop. And the concern that federal funds would run out before the plan was completed.

Indianapolis News, 20 September 1965. The routing of the interstate system through Marion County had already been approved by local, state and federal officials. But that didn’t stop some people from trying to change them.

Up until the point of the summer of 1965, nine years of planning had already gone into the creation of the interstate system in Marion County. Delay after delay, mainly caused by slight variations in the planning, were in the process of being overcome. The whole plan found itself against a hard “drop dead” date, or what was thought to be a hard cap on said date, of 1972. Part of the legislation financing the entire nation’s interstate system stated that the Federal government would continue to pay 90% of the cost until 1972. “The chance that Congress, about five years from now, will extend the 1972 deadline is a gamble state officials cannot and dare not take.” (Indianapolis News, 20 September 1965)

The latest oppositions (in summer of 1965) came from Congressman Andrew Jacobs and City Councilman Max Brydenthal. Their major hang up with the plans was simply that I-65 should turn north on the west side of the White River, and that the inner loop should be completely depressed from multiplex section (where 65 and 70 share the same pavement) west to White River.

The Interstate 65 reroute from West Street west to 38th Street would, according to the proponents, would accomplish five things: 1) the original plan would dead end 40 streets through the west side, and the new plan would require no closing of streets; 2) the new I-65 route could be combined with the already planned SR 37/Harding Street expressway plans for the west side, lowering the cost of building both roads; 3) more interchanges could be worked in, allowing better access, especially to what would become IUPUI and its assorted facilities; 4) historic landmarks would be preserved (mentioned were Taggart Riverside Park, Belmont Park, and Lake Sullivan); and 5) there would be no delay in construction.

From the other side, the proponents of the original plan responded with six points of their own: 1) the original plans were already in the hands of the State Highway Department’s land acquisition office; 2) Construction design plans were already 85% complete; 3) designs for a bridge north of the Naval Armory were nearly completed; 4) the state already spent, or was in process of spending, $2.4 million for right of way; 5) preliminary planning and design fees had already cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars; and 6) relocation would set the project back three years.

The other bone of contention was the inner loop…and the prospect of making it a below grade facility. As with the actual constructed facility, the depressed section of the interstate project would be from south of Washington Street to Morris/Prospect Street. The desired change would depress the entire center section, and both I-65 and I-70 from West Street to the combined corridor.

Part of the reasoning, used by those that wanted the highway depressed, was quite simply that an elevated expressway would add to the “blighting” of the area where that elevated was built. “In city after city, past experience demonstrated the blighting effect of elevated roadways (most of which are railroad) and we now have evidence that the depressed roadways actually enhance the value of property in their neighborhoods.”

Another bonus point in the depression of the interstate, say the proponents, is that Indianapolis would have a chance to install new sewers, bigger than the ones that were already in place. This included the possibility of the city/state buying snow melting machinery because the new sewers would be able to handle the increase in volume.

The people that had already done the planning pointed out that each section of the planned inner loop had to considered in sections, and not as a whole. Each section of the entire project had been studied and restudied. There was a study done for depressing the north leg of the project (I-65 from West Street to I-70). It had been discarded. The south leg would be partially depressed (at the east end) as would the east leg (at the south end).

One change in the routing of I-65 had already been put in place. On the south side of Indianapolis, the interstate was originally planned to go through Garfield Park. Now, it goes east of that facility.

In the end, the drop dead date of October 1972 came and went without the completion of the expressways downtown. It would be 1976 until they were opened to traffic. The new SR 37 expressway was never built…and now SR 37 doesn’t even connect to downtown Indianapolis. The original routing and elevation, planned in the early 1960’s, was followed as approved.

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