SR 434 and Local Confusion

In the late 1930’s, the Indiana State Highway Commission decided to create a truck route through the northern part of Marion County. This was not the Indianapolis Bypass, that would be originally designated SR 534, later to become SR 100. This truck route connected Michigan Road (SR 29) to Meridian Street (US 31) along what is now Westlane Road/73rd Street/and Meridian Hills Boulevard. This road would be designated SR 434. It was one of the “Daughters” of SR 34.

While the road became the state’s responsibility, there were some problems that crept up almost immediately.

In Marion County, as reported in the Indianapolis News of 11 December 1940, there was a pecking order when it came to traffic flow in rural Marion County. Most of the county roads heading north and south were given higher traffic priority over east-west routes. This served the county well. However, when the state took over what was then called 71st Street, it changed the priority of Spring Mill Road at the junction with SR 434.

Up to the state take over, the priority of traffic was on Spring Mill Road. There was a time when there was talk about building Spring Mill Road all the way to Kokomo to funnel some traffic off of US 31. It would have connected what is now Dixon Road/Howard CR 200W/Tipton CR 800W to Spring Mill Road between Tipton County’s Division Road and 296th Street.

To that time, there was a stop sign on 71st Street. From the east, 71st Street had been paved. Coming from the west, the street had been a dirt road “carrying little traffic.” That changed in 1939, when the state paved the entire route and created the new truck route SR 434. With that change, traffic density changed directions, increasing on 71st Street. Also, due to the state road designation, the type of traffic flow changed. Now SR 434 was being used more by out of town vehicles, as designed. Spring Mill carried more local traffic.

It all came to a head on 8 December 1940. Three people were killed at the intersection of SR 434 and Spring Mill Road. The number of accidents at the intersection had increased since the change in priority had been made. This accident, however, was made worse, in locals minds, since it involved a young lady and a two year old child.

The answer to the locals was simple – restore Spring Mill to the priority route. Simple enough. The Marion County Sheriff, Al Feeney, with the help of some of his deputies, made an investigation of the intersection. The results of that investigation led to some recommendations released by the Sheriff on 11 December 1940: 1) establishment of flasher signal warnings, 2) use of larger stop signs, and 3) placing the stop signs further from the intersection.

The Sheriff “saw no reason for accidents to to occur at the intersection even as the situation no exists. He said the crossing is marked as well as any other similar one.” The Sheriff’s investigation determined that the major problem was that the intersection was level and had none of the usual distinguishing marks at important crossings, such as gas stations or stores.

Local resident and business man, A. J. Vondersaar, had written a letter to the county commissioners about the situation. The letter had been at the request of several of his neighbors. It argued that Spring Mill, both north and south of this intersection, had been the preferential road. As had this intersection until the state took over. “Since that time there has been a series of accidents, culminating yesterday (8 December 1940) in the fatal accident costing the life of a child and young lady.”

That accident had involved Tipton resident, John B. Mitchell, 43. Mitchell, and a passenger in his vehicle, Miss Grace Rains, 23, also of Tipton, were killed. As was John Schleppey, two, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bloor Schleppey of Zionsville. The young Mr. Schleppey had been a passenger in the car hit by Mr. Mitchell. Mrs. Schleppey was in St. Vincent’s Hospital suffering from serious injuries. Mr. Mitchell had been traveling south on Spring Mill when he hit the Schleppey car.

Vondersaar’s letter continued. “There is every reason for traffic in Seventy-first street, including the trucks, to stop for Spring Mill road. We feel that a change should be made immediately, either making both Spring Mill and Seventy-first street traffic come to a full stop at this intersection or making Spring Mill road traffic slow down to ten or fifteen miles an hour and Seventy-first street traffic come to a complete stop.”

Director of Safety for the State Highway Commission, Hallie Myers, reported that upon his investigation, the crossing “is marked better than many others of its kind, not only with stop signs but with warning signs indicating that there is an intersection ahead.” Stop signs were also installed a normal distance from the intersection, as per MUTCD.

Another local resident recommended that the traffic control devices, and traffic priority, be left alone, but be augmented by “an electric flasher sign to be hung over the intersection.” Today, the intersection is control by stop lights. It is unknown to me whether the state put those in or the county did after SR 434 was decommissioned in 1963. Stop lights were first installed at US 31 and SR 434 in 1956.

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