30 March 1977. Most of the Penn Central Transportation Company has been absorbed into the Consolidated Rail Company for 364 days. There still is a Penn Central, it is just the parts that Conrail didn’t want. One of those sections that Conrail didn’t want was the old Indianapolis & Lafayette that went through Zionsville. And the Boone County government was really interested in that section of railroad.
The Indianapolis News of 30 March 1977 covers the idea fairly well. “Boone county planners are awaiting word from the Penn Central Railroad in hopes of buying abandoned railroad right-of-way for a new commuter road between Indianapolis and Zionsville’s burgeoning westside.” The Penn Central was, at the time, getting rid of the line northwest of Zionsville.
Boone County was trying to deal with the increase in traffic west of Zionsville. At the time, the major routes were SR 334 connecting Zionsville to both I-65 in the west and US 421 in the east. But SR 334 had a problem: it wound through downtown Zionsville. This created major traffic problems…especially at rush hour. In all of Zionsville, at least the central part of the town, there is only one traffic signal. It is at Main Street (Zionsville Road in Indianapolis) and Sycamore Street (old SR 334). But SR 334 turned north not on Main Street, but one block west of there on First Street. It then went three blocks north, turning west on Oak Street, where there was, and still is, a four way stop.
On the west side of Zionsville, Ford Road, the first major county road west of downtown, travels south to 96th Street, where it ends, curving to become 96th Street. Before getting to Ford Road from the center of Zionsville, travelers would cross the New York Central/Penn Central heading towards both Indianapolis and Lafayette. Boone County wanted to use that right-of-way to build a commuter road to alleviate traffic in the Zionsville village area.
Discussions were already underway with the city of Indianapolis to extend Ford Road from the point it turned into 96th Street to a point 200 yards from the 86th Street interchange with I-465. That would have taken Ford Road either winding around Eagle Creek, or having it cross that stream at least twice to make the connection.
The Boone County Master Plan, adopted in 1976, had plans for Cooper Road, 1.5 miles west of Ford Road, turning it into a major traffic route between Zionsville and I-465. Cooper Road only west as far south as a couple of blocks shy of 86th Street near Lafayette Road. Residents along Cooper Road put up stiff opposition to the plan and it was removed from consideration.
So Boone County was looking at buying 0.8 miles of the old railroad right-of-way in an effort to connect the Zionsville-Whitestown Road to the (then) northern end of Ford Road. The railroad bed was in a 20 foot depression. There was some concern about the embankment making for some blind intersections.
The Boone County Commissioners had planned to use the westside of the 100 foot wide ROW of the Penn Central to extend Ford Road north to Whitestown Road. This would help the downtown Zionsville traffic problem. Up to that point, Whitestown Road turned (and still does) into Mulberry Street and dumps into Ash Street between Fifth and Sixth Streets. This puts all traffic onto residential streets to get to the central part of Zionsville. An extension of Ford Road north to Whitestown Road would create a western bypass to get to 96th Street without the crushing traffic in the Zionsville center.
The desired cooperation between Boone and Marion Counties, even 40+ years later, had never occurred. 96th Street, at the south end of Ford Road, is narrow and wooded…not allowing for many mistakes when it comes to driving. But it does serve to bypass the central part of Zionsville.