SR 49 Bypass at Valparaiso

November 1947. The mayoral elections in Valparaiso have just finished, electing Elden Kuehl. This now first term mayor decides that traffic through Valparaiso needs curbing. He recommends that the Indiana State Highway Commission build a bypass of SR 49 around the city. State Senator John Van Ness goes so far as to initiate a feasibility study for the road. And there it sat.

Porter County has always had plenty of roads crossing it to the east and west. Into the Auto Trails age, this included the Lincoln Highway, which entered Valparaiso from the west, leaving via the northeast. But north-south routes were lacking. Valparaiso itself had SR 49 that went right through downtown.

Mayor Kuehl thought there might be a groundbreaking for the new SR 49 by 1950. As it turned out, in the 1950s committees were formed to try to create a route for a bypass. Some plans included using SR 149 to the west of town. But most of the attention was placed on an eastern bypass of Valparaiso. In 1960, then Mayor Don Will said the plans for the eastern bypass were on the drawing board with the state. He announced that before the Valparaiso Lions Club. Later that year, an official from the ISHC told the same Lions Club that “a 49 bypass was not that day’s answer for moving people through the city.” (Source: The Times, Munster, Indiana, 20 July 2003)

The project was still in limbo into the 1970’s when what would become the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission stated that they were trying to keep the bypass alive. A bypass of Chesterton had been built in relation to I-94 construction. In 1975, Governor Otis Bowen tried to put locals at ease by saying that the bypass was still a high priority, but that the Federal government places a rather large roadblock in the way. The Governor said that there were now 236 steps from start to completion required according to government officials in Washington, DC. Some didn’t see this as honest, since an eight year completion date in 1975 was the same period that the bypass completion was going to take since 1963.

The Times, Munster, Indiana, photo, 20 July 2003. Groundbreaking for the SR 49 bypass of Valparaiso.

That eight years was an accurate statement. On 10 June 1983, a groundbreaking was held to commence construction on the new SR 49 bypass east of Valparaiso. At the groundbreaking was the then Mayor of Valparaiso…Elden Kuehl, the man that started discussions on the project in the first place way back in 1947. It would be exactly six years later, on 2 June 1989, that the grand opening was held.

A reconstruction project on the road in 2001 turned into a two year project when it was discovered that the soil along the route was inferior when it came to road construction. Previously, craks were starting to form in the concrete as the sub-base of the road was being destroyed by the weight of vehicles using the highway. In 2001, the just poured road had to be ripped up and replaced due to the inferior sub-base. A one year, $12 million project turned into a two year, $18 million project.

1975: Interurban in Tipton County, 40 Years Later

On 27 April, 1975, the Kokomo Tribune ran a full page story about with the headline “Clues to old interurban road still traceable in Tipton County.” The first paragraph was: “TIPTON – Nearly 40 years after the last of Tipton County’s interurbans was abandoned, it is still possible to retrace their rights-of-ways.” Many are the stories that were included in that article. I want to share some of it here today.

Along the old interurban lines, at that time, were many things that can immediately show the location of the old right-of-way. Bridge abutments are the most obvious. But there were also concrete collars, placed around electric poles for the safety of the pole. These collars were four feet high. They lined both sides of the tracks.

But the article goes on to point out other things that aren’t so obvious.

“In a goat pasture about a mile west of Hobbs, the interurban roadway appears as a flat plateau running alone the south side of Ind, 28.” Hobbs, according to Google Maps, is where SR 28 and SR 213 come together. Just south of SR 28 on SR 213, at CR 150S, “utility poles cutting through a field mark the southern edge of the interurban right-of-way.” Between the two mentions places in this paragraph, “a 20-feet-wide strip has been removed from a woods along the highway.”

The Union Traction Company of Indiana operated two interurban lines through Tipton County. The first, which would include the locations from the previous paragraph, ran from Elwood to Tipton through Hobbs. The other ran north through Tipton County, starting in Indianapolis, and connecting Atlanta, Tipton and Sharpsville before leaving the county. Another line that was planned, and construction started, but was never finished, would have connected Tipton to Frankfort.

The article states that “it is easiest today to find the old routes in rural areas. Construction and growth in cities have covered up the old tracks there. The interurbans often ran alongside highways and regular railroads, and the rural folks have not been in a hurry to obliterate the roadbeds.”

The line crossing Tipton County from the south followed the old Nickle Plate tracks across the county into Tipton. The Interurban repair yards, known as “the shops” (as related by 76 year old Dempsey Goodnight, a lineman and conductor for 10 years for the Union Traction Company), were located just north of Cicero Creek at Tipton. Work on the traction cars happened at this location. An electric substation was also contained on the yard’s property. By 1975, the old two story building was being used by a seed company.

That right of way left the Nickle Plate right-of-way to go west on Madison Street. According to Goodnight, between Independence and East Streets, there “used to be a stucco house. I remember when a street car jumped the tracks here and hit the porch.”

The ticket and dispatch offices, as well as the freight house, were located at the corner of Main and Madison Streets. By 1975, the freight depot, located on the west end of the ticket/dispatch office, had been torn down and replaced.

The route through Tipton turned north on Main Street, west on Dearborn Street, and north on Green Street. A boarding house for travelers was located at 612 Green Street, according to Goodnight. From there, the line headed northwest toward Sharpsville and Kokomo.

Jefferson Street was the entry point into Tipton for the line from Elwood, and made a loop in the downtown area. That loop was south on Independence Street, west on Madison Street, north on West Street back to Jefferson Street and its trip back towards Elwood.

“When the interurbans were built, the 75-foot utility poles were set in concrete. As the lines were abandoned, the poles were removed but many of the concrete bases were left in place, now looking like old lawn planters.”

Between Tipton and Hobbs, the old ROW was located about 20 feet south of SR 28. At Hobbs, the interurban followed CR 150S until just east of the SR 213 intersection, where it followed the old Norfolk & Western tracks, along the south side of the ROW, for four miles. Near CR 700E, the interurban veered south, just to turn back north to cross the N&W on a viaduct..

The ROW south from Tipton followed the old Nickle Plate as far as CR 500S, where it moved to the west around a cemetery. It then turned east again to cross a road, railroad and a creek. One of the abutments for that overpass still exist along CR 100 W and the Nickle Plate tracks, as seen here.

It looks like there may be a road trip in my future to see what is actually left of these two interurban lines. From what I can tell from Google Maps, there isn’t much. But, inquiring minds want to know. And If nothing else, I have an inquiring mind.

All photos in this blog entry came from the Kokomo Tribune of 27 April 1975 and were taken by Ron Sentman.

Lafayette Rail Relocation

Cover photo courtesy of Justin L. Grayson, as was the idea for the post.

When the railroads started coming to towns across the United States, it was a sign of prestige to have a railroad company build a line through the middle of a city street. While the towns thought it was something to be proud of, crossing the tracks was almost impossible. Lafayette was a town of rail crossings…and street running. As I have written about before, Lafayette was the home of several railroad lines. But toward the middle of the 1990’s, this was going to change…with the help of a lot of federal, state and local tax money.

1941 USGS Topo Map of downtown Lafayette, IN.

The actual beginning of discussions about relocating railroad tracks through the city of Lafayette occurred in 1926, when the city first proposed such relocations. Between 1963 and 1973, a series of engineering studies were commissioned by city officials to look at the possibility.

The idea of moving the railroad tracks through Lafayette started moving forward in 1974, when a study was conducted by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It was announced by Mayor James Riehle, on 11 July 1975, that a project director was named for the relocation. That director would be Herbert Thomas, vice-president of transportation at Kaiser Engineers, Inc. His local resident manager would be James Ellis.

It was also announced that day that the first two phases of the project would be completed in about ten months from that time. Phase one included the above mentioned SRI study. Phase two would consist primarily of engineering. The final two phases, design and construction, were not put on any schedule as of July 1975.

Mr. Thomas said “relocation plans here are not the biggest he has seen in the country, but said ‘the Lafayette project would be a major one for any city,'” as reported in the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 12 July 1975. He also referred to the “railroad-motor vehicle situation in Lafayette ‘a serious problem,’ noting that on a previous visit he was stopped by a train while hurrying to reach Weir Cook Airport.”

According to the Journal and Courier, “one important aspect of the Kaiser work will be to determine if the negative impact on the Monon Avenue area can be lessened.” Thomas said that “the alignment developed so far can only be reguarded (sic) as preliminary.”

One year later, in July 1976, Kaiser Engineering was set to begin look at the various alternatives to the new railroad location. Project Manager Ken Knevel said that the company would concentrate its work on the riverfront corridor since it received the most support locally. “Everything we’re doing now is just in response to individuals’ comments. The riverfront has been indicated as the preferred corridor.” (Source: Lafayette Journal and Courier, 24 July 1976.) Paul Stitt of the Norfolk & Western and Jack Smith of the Louisville & Nashville both agreed that the riverfront corridor would be best for both their companies’ operations. Conrail’s representative, John Partridge, said “otehr alternative corridors – bypassing the city and using the current N&W and L&N lines – is less satisfactory than the riverfront.”

The Louisville and Nashville, by way of their purchase of the Monon, was running trains through the middle of Fifth Street at the time. However, they did own a stub line that started just north of Main Street (and the Main Street bridge across the Tippecanoe River) traveling northeast to connect to the the street running route, and railroad yards, northeast of Fifth Street. Connecting this stub to the Nickel Plate and Wabash two blocks south along the riverfront would not be that much of a stretch.

Funding was going to be a constant problem, especially from the mid-1970’s to 1980. Washington had become very tight fisted when it came to money. The mayor of Lafayette had gone to Washington DC in March 1977 to ensure that funding would be available for the project through 1980. There were no guarantees.

There were as many as 19 railroad relocation projects in some sort of process in the late 1970’s. Lafayette had gained national attention because it involved consolidating three railroad companies into one line through the city.

Between 1976 and 1978, two neighborhoods were the focus of studies for the relocation plan. Those neighborhoods, the Wabash and the Monon, were going to be directly affected by the moving of the tracks.

The first construction phase finally started in October 1984, when Congress appropriated $7 million. Less than a year later, in September 1985, five homes were torn down to prepare to place Wabash Avenue 23 feet below the relocated train tracks. Things started looking bad again in 1987 when a pending Presidential Veto threatened $20 million in funding over five years for the project…and the insistence from Federal officials that state and local governments pony up 20% of the cost. Something in which INDOT said they weren’t really keen on participating. That veto was overridden by the House and Senate.

The next phase of construction after the override of that veto included a replacement for the Main Street bridge over the Wabash River, new approach ramps to the Harrison Bridge (now Old US 231) and a rail corridor between Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue to replace the Fifth Street street running tracks. A new $11 million North Ninth Street rail underpass was scheduled to being construction in late 1987.

Construction photo of the Lafayette Railroad Relocation, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Justin L. Grayson.

By 1994, the street running along Fifth Street had come to an end. According to the Journal and Courier of 22 July 1994, those were “crossings eliminated today.” Also according to the same newspaper graphic, phase 5 was to be completed in 1998-99 that would relocate the Norfolk Southern’s Wabash double-track corridor to the riverfront route, eliminating 24 crossings from Kossuth Street to Underwood Street.

Lafayette Courier & Journal, 2 August 2003,
announcing the end of the Railroad Relocation
Office in Lafayette.

The project’s offices would finally closed down on 1 August 2003. There were a lot of behind the scenes work that needed to be finished by the office, but the relocation was done. There was also one thing, historically, that was brought up when construction was occurring in 1993. While digging up the foundation of the old Big Four Station in Lafayette, some timbers from the Wabash & Erie Canal were found. The officials with the Railroad Relocation sent those timbers to Columbia, SC, for preservation. They were returned to Lafayette and given to the Tippecanoe County Historical Society for display.

The project would cost a grand total of $186 million in the end. It would not only affect rail transport through the area, but road transport changed as well. The old Main Street bridge in downtown Lafayette was changed to a pedestrian facility. Ultimately, all INDOT facilities in the city itself would be removed…leaving no state or US roads to downtown.

The Crawfordsville Pike, and Its Change in Marion County

Crawfordsville Road. In its history, it has been a state built county road, a toll road, an Auto Trail, a state road, a US Highway, and, ultimately, a connecting city street (in two towns). Most of the original route of the road in Marion County is still used for the (old) route from Indianapolis to Crawfordsville, which was the purpose. But there are three places where the road has changed in a major way. One close to downtown Indianapolis, one at White River, and one at Speedway.

When the Crawfordsville Road was established, it left Indianapolis along what is now Indiana Avenue. At the time, it was also the Lafayette Road. The road then followed Indiana Avenue to Fall Creek (where 10th Street is now). It then crossed Fall Creek in a straight line with Waterway Boulevard, not Indiana Avenue. Both the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads, on the same route, followed the north bank of White River to just north of where the 16th Street Bridge is now. The old bridge at what is now 16th Street, called the Emrichsville Bridge, started on the west bank of the river at the same place the 16th Street bridge does. The difference is that the Emrichsville Bridge crossed at a right angle to the river, making a shorter bridge that caused the road to be north of the present route.

The Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads split at what is now Lafayette Road and 16th Street. Crawfordsville Road continued on what is now 16th Street to what is now Cunningham Road in Speedway. It then connected to what is currently Crawfordsville Road, and more-or-less followed that route through the rest of Marion County, with the small exception of the area at High School Road, I-465 and I-74. It was slightly rerouted there with the construction of I-74. Then, it was rerouted again, closer to the original path, when the I-74 entrance was removed. Also, the old road was just south of the current one west of I-465.

In 1914, the old Crawfordsville Road became part of the Dixie Highway. This would be part of the western leg, connecting Indianapolis to Chicago…but not directly. Indianapolis was the crossroads of both parts of the western leg. This would make the old road part of a highway that stretched all the way to Miami, Florida.

As is almost typical of the old “state roads” in Indiana, the old road had 1) been county responsibility beginning around the turn of the 20th century, and 2) been criss-crossed by a railroad that had been 20 years after the original construction of the road by the state. The railroad, in this case, was, starting in 1890, the Peoria & Eastern, a New York Central property (via the Big Four). In Marion County alone, the P&E, and the THI&E interurban route to Crawfordsville, crossed the old Crawfordsville Road twice in what is now Speedway.

When the State Highway Commission was (re)created in 1919 (it had been formed originally in 1917, but had legal questions that caused a new law to be passed in 1919), the Dixie Highway route was not brought into the new state road system. Even with the expansion of the system in 1923, the Crawfordsville Road would still not be state responsibility.

But 1923 was the year that the major reroute of the Speedway section would be proposed. The map below, as published in the Indianapolis News of 13 April 1923, shows the plan to move the route from 16th Street to a new build north of the Peoria & Eastern/THI&E Traction tracks. As mentioned, the new construction would “eliminate four dangerous railroad and interurban crossings and would straighten and shorten the road materially.”

In 1926, when the state road system was expanded and renumbered, the old road would be added to the new state road system, sort of. The official description, from the ISHC and published in the Indianapolis News of 28 September 1926, was listed as “State Road 34 – Indianapolis to the Illinois-Indiana state line at Beckwith, passing through Pittsboro, Lizton, Jamestown, New Ross, Crawfordsville, Waynetown, Hillsboro, Veedersburg and Covington. (From Crawfordsville west this now is known as State Road 33. Between Indianapolis and Crawfordsville the road has not yet been added to the state system but soon will be.)”

1941 aerial photograph, courtesy of MapIndy (City of Indianapolis website) of the Crawfordsville Road area in Speedway. The thicker white line from the lower right to the upper left is the post-1923 route. In the upper left just below that, is the old road, which ran just south of the new road. The old road then turns south-southeast to connect to what is now 16th Street.

Ultimately, when added to the state system, the new SR 34 would extend along 16th Street to Northwestern Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street) where it would end at US 36 and SR 29. This would be the other reroute of the old road to connect to downtown. In 1951, SR 34 would be changed to US 136, ending at what had become US 421 at the same time.

As mentioned above, another change to the US 136 route would come with the construction of I-74 in 1959/1960. The road would be bent slightly northwest to connect to the new interstate, with an intersection allowing drivers to turn left onto US 136. The US 136 designation would be removed from this intersection to Northwestern Avenue in 1975. The last change would be when the connection to I-74 was moved from a direct route to a new entrance directly from US 136 (and then US 136 being truncated again, being removed from the section between the new ramp and High School Road). The old road was curved in such a way to create a more “straight through” traffic pattern on Crawfordsville Road.

The original route would also be rerouted near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A new roundabout was put in place at Crawfordsville Road, 16th Street and Main Street. Georgetown Road was removed from this connection. To connect to the old road from this point requires a short trip south on Main Street back to 16th Street, which was made discontinuous with the building of that roundabout.