By 1923, a state road had been added connecting Gentryville to St. Meinrad, via Lincoln City and Santa Claus. This road was given the number 16. Ultimately, OSR 16 connected Mount Vernon in the west to New Albany in the east, via Evansville, Boonville, Leavenworth, and Corydon. With the Great Renumbering, the route of OSR 16 had become SR 62. The part of this SR 62 is the section from Gentryville to St. Meinrad. By mid 1929, Most of this section would be renumbered again…this time to SR 162. SR 62 had been moved to connect St. Meinrad directly with Dale.
The original route of OSR 16/SR 62/SR 162 through this area was typical of the early state roads built by the Indiana State Highway Commission: use the country and county roads that are in place, put a state road marker on it, and let the state maintain it. This meant that the route of this state road wasn’t the straightest, or safest, road known to man. But it served its purpose starting in, probably, 1920. 66 years later, the Indiana Department of Highways had an idea!
As the first line of the news story in the Herald of Jasper, Indiana, stated: “Santa Claus – The long and winding road.” Staff writer Brian Blair followed that up with the paragraph starting “a four-mile stretch of State Road 162 won’t fit that description much longer.”
IDOH had plopped down $5.5 million to Codell Construction of Winchester, Kentucky, to make this portion of the highway system straighter, wider and safer.
The project, which started in July 1986, was due to be completed by Fall 1987. But the project supervisor on site made it a point to make sure it was known that the company was going to do all it could to get as much work done while the road was still open.
But the idea to do this work didn’t pop up overnight in 1986. Planning for project had been approved nine years earlier. More than a decade after a local developer had lobbied for a better road to Santa Claus. But the state spent the money for SR 162 on other things for that almost a decade before construction began.
Part of the reason for the need for this project was tourism, plain and simple. The area served by SR 162 in its entirety included the Holiday World theme park in Santa Claus, and the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial to the west of Santa Claus. SR 162 connected to Interstate 64 between Ferdinand and SR 62. It was pointed out that other theme parks, such as King’s Island and Opryland, had access road connecting them directly to the nearest interstate highway. This could help the area when it comes to accessing the area’s attractions.
The widening of the road, thus making it safer, was the important part of this project. By 1986, this section of road included two lanes of 10 feet wide each, with a one foot wide stone shoulder on each side. The width of the new SR 162 would be two lanes of 11 feet each, with a paved shoulder on each side, again 11 feet wide each. The road would double in width – going from 22 feet wide to 44 feet wide. The removal of sharp angled curves, especially on the south end of the 3.88 mile project, was the main part of this work.
The project would start with a redesigned intersection of SR 162 and SR 245. As shown in the above 1962 USGS map, the intersection of the two state roads was interesting, to say the least. In addition to the fact that SR 245 coming north from Santa Fe turned at a 90 degree angle east of Santa Claus. As shown in the newspaper map above, and the Google Map below, the curve was eased along SR 245, and the new SR 162 would connect at a safer angle.
Traffic counts, done in 1983, showed that the northern mile of the project area, from SR 62 south to County Road 1850N, had an average daily volume of 1,660 vehicles. Many of these were coal trucks. The southern end, from SR 245 to Ashburn Road, averaged 1,260 vehicles a day. The same traffic study showed that almost 5,100 vehicles a day used the section of SR 162 from I-64 north to Third Street in Ferdinand.