The Beginnings of Interstate 70 in Indiana

When I was younger, before I really started getting into becoming a road geek, the only road that I could tell you anything about was Interstate 70. It was the first one that I could remember. This was because I spent, at least in the back seat of the car, a LOT of time on that road. It was the first road that I remember learning things like exit signs and mileage markers. My family is from Pennsylvania. I describe getting to my ancestor’s location as driving on I-70 to the end, and keep going. (The end being New Stanton, PA. I-70 changes into US 119 there.) But, this is an Indiana Transportation History blog, not a history discussion about me.

Interstate 70 has been voted by some YouTubers the greatest of the cross-country interstates. The first newspaper reference that I have found about it came from the Muncie Star Press of 29 November 1957. The Headline read: “‘Interstate 70’ Name of New Highway.” The story went on to state “Federal Interstate Highway 70 is the name officially chosen for the projected New York-to-St. Louis federal super-highway that is to follow a course roughly parallel to U.S. 40. Its marked will be a shield with a red, blue and white background carrying the word Interstate across the top, the word Indiana at the bottom and in the center the figure 70.”

The National Road Traveler of Cambridge City reported, on 27 March 1958, that the Indiana Farm Bureau met with about 150 Henry County farmers to explain the rights of property owners along the new route. “The right-of-way for Interstate 70 will be 300 feet, which amounts to about 30 acres per mile.” The farmers were told that when considering the value of the property, keep in mind everything there – buildings, wells, septic tanks, fences and the cost of the land.

When the decision was being made about where to locate Interstate 70, there were a lot of things in play. Believe it or not, there were financial things taken into consideration. The plan was to put I-70 from 1.75 to 2 miles north of U.S. 40 According to the Tri-County Banner, Knightstown, of 6 February 1958, “highway engineers believe that the corridor between the two highways would be wide enough to constitute valuable industrial and business sites, conveniently located to rail as well as highway facilities.” Yes, you read that right. The location of railroad facilities was considered, at least in Indiana, for the location of the interstate.

Another thing mentioned in this article is that the plan was to try to use section lines as much as possible. Given the information put out, it would put the interstate, according to the newspaper, south of Spiceland. This would be located south of the Central School in the area. But the section line actually ran along the south edge of Spiceland, and through the school itself. That section line is located 2.5 miles north of U.S. 40. “Survey crews are already at work north of Richmond and it has been announced that the proposed highway will be slightly more than 2.6 miles north of U.S. 40 at Centerville, but will then swing slightly southward. The road will leave Wayne county about two miles north of U.S. 40 at Cambridge City.”

The Richmond Palladium-Item of 18 December 1958 reported “Record-Breaking Road Plan Includes Bypass.” The Chairman of the Indiana State Highway Commission was interviewed about the pending project. Chairman John Peters mentioned that the bids for the I-70 project at Richmond would be taken in March 1959. Right-of-way purchasing would also be started in early 1959. He also mentioned that three changes in the routing of the bypass, at the request of residents of both Richmond and Wayne County, have delayed the project for about a year.

This is just a small snippet of what went into creating Interstate 70 across, at least, eastern Indiana. At some point, I will be covering western Indiana. And the other interstates in the state.

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