If one looks at a map of Fort Wayne, the first thing you would notice is the interstates that flank the city. I-69 flanks Fort Wayne to the west, and I-469 to the east. Between the two, it forms a circle around Indiana’s second largest city. But the designation of I-469 was a late comer to the whole plan.
When the idea of a bypass of Fort Wayne was floated, the idea was create a bypass removing US 24 and US 27 from the downtown area. The location of the new bypass would route both of those US routes far outside the bounds of the city. Most of the new bypass would be built outside the distant city limits.
The bypass would be constructed starting at Lafayette Center Road southwest of the city at I-69. The first section of the route would be built from that point to connect to US 30 east of New Haven, a distance of 19 miles. The contracts were let for this project starting 12 June 1984.
But it wasn’t an interstate project at the time. When it was assigned a number, it was given the designation SR 469. Contracts for the road, posted in 1987, all referred to the route as US 24. What is so important about the designation as SR 469 is the financing for the project. As a state road, the state would have to pay 25% of the total project costs. If it were an interstate, that share would only be 10%.
By late July 1989, the project would acquire an interstate designation. However, that designation would not come with the boost in financing from Washington that would normally be expected. Since the project started as a state project, it would be continued to be funded the same way. When the type of road switched from state to interstate, it was expected that the road would be completed by 1992. The section from Minnich Road to Lafayette Center was expected to open in October, 1989.
In September 1989, it was publicly announced that the Fort Wayne bypass was the important project when it came to state. An additional $9.6 million was allocated to Indiana from Washington, DC. Of that, three-quarters of the money would be applied to a single interchange at Fort Wayne – SR 469 and US 30.
Work came to a screeching halt on SR 469 in June 1991 when workers found a wooden lock from the Wabash & Erie Canal while excavating for the new US 24/SR 469 interchange. This was unique in several ways. One, there weren’t any locks from the canal that were believed to have been still intact. None were thought to have survived the removal of the canal. Two, the lock was pretty much in tact, even though it had been buried. Having been built in the 1840’s, it was quite a find. INDOT agreed to halt construction until a plan was put in place for preservation ideas. The choice was redesign the highway, or remove the locks. This particular lock was called the Gronauer Lock, measuring 15 feet wide and 100 feet long. It was one of the largest on the canal. And while the rest of the locks along the canal deteriorated, this one was saved by the fact that it was buried between 10 and 15 years after the canal was abandoned. The canal was only used for a few years after opening in 1853. Corruption, mismanagement and the railroads saw the end of the londest canal built in the United States.
For a project that started percolating in the minds of INDOT in 1984, and started being built in 1987, the Fort Wayne Bypass was finally opened completely to traffic on 23 October 1995. With the completion of the road, the designation SR 469 was removed, and all signs were replaced with the shield of Interstate 469.