Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The year is 1902, and the Indianapolis Southern Railroad has just been chartered to enter the city of Indianapolis and rumble through the Marion County countryside south of the city. Once the railroad entered Perry Township from Center Township (at what is now Troy Avenue), the railroad right of way followed the survey line one mile west of the Three Notch Road (Meridian Street) and two miles west of the Range Line (Shelby Street). Just south of what would become Stop 8 Road, now Edgewood Avenue, the railroad crossed the Bluff Free Gravel Road.

Rail and road traffic near this intersection of the Indianapolis Southern and the Bluff Road wasn’t a real problem for several years after the building of the railroad. In 1914, the Bluff Road was to become part of the Dixie Highway. This highway, connecting south Florida to Chicago and northern Michigan, actually connected to Indianapolis, the hometown of its creator, in four different directions. This led to a traffic increase along the Bluff Road, creating more problems at the railroad crossing which was at a very bad angle to begin with.

The problem was made worse when the state took over the Bluff Road in 1923, making it original State Road 22. This made the Indiana State Highway Commission responsible for the maintenance of the very old road. In 1925, the state decided that enough was enough, and a bridge was built over the Indianapolis Southern railroad, which had become part of the Illinois Central.

The bridge that was built was a very narrow facility. Two lanes wide, at best. But it would serve its purpose, creating a safe crossing of the Illinois Central by SR 22, or as it would soon become, SR 37. And it did just that until the state started moving SR 37 to the west in 1964, and completing the job in 1965. The overpass then became property of Marion County. And here is where it went downhill.

MapIndy 1937 aerial image of the Bluff Road bridge
over the Illinois Central Railroad.

Reconstruction work on the deteriorating span was scheduled in both 1971 and 1977. The Indianapolis Transportation Board posted a long list of bridge projects for that year in newspapers in mid May 1971 and early April 1977. By 1984, the city was looking at removing the bridge all together. Unfortunately, getting the right of way to do this proved troublesome. The bridge was built with very little clearance when it came to the actual right-of-way used. It was suggested by John Willen, DOT Chief Engineer, that land acquisition was a problem, and that the bridge would not be replaced due to decreased rail traffic at that location.

Legal notice was published in the newspapers in December 1984 that the Indianapolis Department of Transportation, with the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Highways, had decided that the overpass on Bluff Road over what was then the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad would be removed and an at-grade crossing would be put in its place. “The proposed project begins at a point approximately 210 feet south of Banta Road, then extends in a northerly direction mostly along the existing alignment of Bluff Road, and terminates at a point about 750 feet south of Edgewood Avenue for a total project length of 0.42 mile (2,210 feet).” In addition to the removal of the overpass, the following was listed as part of the project: “The portion of Bluff Crest Drive between Bluff Road and Bluff Crest Lane, approximately 280 feet will be removed and Bluff Crest Drive access to Bluff Road will be terminated.”

MapIndy aerial image from 1986 of the
Bluff Road bridge over the Indiana Railroad.

In September 1986, the city of Indianapolis introduced a resolution to implement a five ton weight limit on the overpass. The notification of the resolution in the newspapers of the time stated “whereas, the Indianapolis Department of Transportation Street Engineering Division was notified that certain portions of this structure had a stage of deterioration.” Prior to this, the bridge had had a ten ton weight limit. In May 1987, the bridge was closed completely as the city of Indianapolis decided it would be better off replacing the structure with an at-grade crossing. The city reported that the work would be completed by 15 July 1987. The original plan to remove Bluff Crest Drive was apparently just dropped along the way. That residential street still connects to Bluff Road in the same location as it had before the removal of the overpass.

On 29 July 1987, the Indianapolis Star announced that “Bluff Road, closed since April from Banta Road to Edgewood Avenue for extensive reconstruction, was reopened for traffic Tuesday (28 July 1987).” The project cost the city $540,000 and involved the removal of the “severely deteriorated Indianapolis Southern Railroad overpass built in 1925.” Even in the end of the overpass’ life, the newspaper still called it the Indianapolis Southern instead of the company that had taken it over just the year before, the Indiana Railroad.

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.

Westfield Boulevard Bridge Over White River

Indianapolis News photo, 2 October 1974

1891. A steel bridge was built to cross the White River north of Broad Ripple on what was then called the Indianapolis & Westfield Free Gravel Road. As was typical of the time, the bridge crossed the White River at a 90 degree angle, making for the approaches, especially the southern approach, were a little tight. The bridge would be used until the city of Indianapolis would have to tear it down in 1977.

The bridge built in 1891 was a replacement for a bridge that had served for many years at the location. The road had been originally built as the Westfield State Road in the 1830’s. Later, in the late 1840’s, the road would be sold to a toll road company for maintenance and to become a turnpike. This would last until the late 1880’s, when it was purchased back by Marion County for the free use of travelers. It would still be the Free Gravel Road when the new bridge was built.

The original road would cross the river as shown in the 1972 aerial photograph above. The sudden right turn approaching the bridge from the south would later create a bottle neck that the State wanted to take care of…or just bypass altogether.

In the mid-1910’s, the old Westfield State Road would acquire a new name: the Range Line Road, an Auto-Trail that would connect Indianapolis to Kokomo and Peru through Westfield. The Range Line Road gained its name because it followed the survey line that separated Range 3 East and Range 4 East in the survey that divided Indiana into one mile square sections.

Another name was given to the road in 1917 – Main Market Road 1. This was the predecessor to State Road 1, which this became in 1919. This brought the Westfield Road, and its two lane bridge over White River into the state highway system. But it wouldn’t be long until the Indiana State Highway Commission discovered the errors in the naming of this route as a major State Road. While in Indianapolis, and up to what is now 86th Street (later SR 534/100), the road was winding and narrow.

Part of being part of the state highway system is that state roads are, with very few exceptions, automatically truck routes. And running trucks through Broad Ripple, even today, could best be described as “fun,” at least sarcastically. The old state road followed Westfield Boulevard from Meridian Street until it turned north in Broad Ripple…making the turn at Winthrop Avenue and the Monon Railroad tracks interesting. It also gets tight while hugging the White River.

The state would bypass this section of US 31 by building a new road straight north along the Meridian Street corridor. This caused a lot of protesting from the people of Carmel, fearing that their main drag, Range Line Road, would be left to rot, and travelers would be guided around the town. While US 31 bypassed this section, it would be given a replacement state road number: SR 431.

Meanwhile, the White River bridge lumbered on. By 1931, SR 431 was now using the facility. It would stay that way until the building of I-465…which would cause the state to move SR 431 from Westfield Boulevard to Keystone Avenue. The state’s maintenance of the White River bridge would end in 1968.

It didn’t take long for the bridge to fall into disrepair. By 1974, it was recommended to the city that the road and bridge be closed completely to traffic. If not immediately, at most within the next two years. The city would lower the weight limit to five tons in 1974. But this did not solve the pending problems with the bridge. In addition, around the 7300 block of Westfield, was another bridge over what is known as the “overflow channel,” a small White River cutoff north of the main channel of the river. The bridge over the overflow channel was in as bad or worse shape than the truss bridge in the 6700 block of Westfield.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel in the 7300 block of Westfield Boulevard.

The main bridge would be closed in 1977 for the building of a replacement of the facility. Business owners of Broad Ripple, as early as 1974, had been arguing for either fixing or replacing the bridge in place. Their discussions concerned the fact that straightening the road would allow for high speed traffic to come in through “Broad Ripple’s back door.” Keeping the tight and winding approaches to the White River bridge would slow traffic down before entering the neighborhood. Both ideas were continuously shot down by the city of Indianapolis, the owners of the facility. The City went so far as to recommending that Westfield Boulevard be closed between Broad Ripple Avenue and 75th Street, thus removing the need to replace the bridge altogether.

As it turned out, the bridge would be replaced. Or, more to the point, bypassed. The next photo, a 1978 aerial taken from MapIndy, shows the new bridge and the old bridge it replaced. The old bridge would be completely removed from aerial photos the following year.

1978 MapIndy aerial photograph showing the replacement Westfield Boulevard bridge over White River, and the location of the old bridge.

The new bridge would open on 12 June 1978. But the road wouldn’t. In an example of just fantastic government planning, the Overflow Channel bridge would be closed in either August or September of 1978 for replacement. This would cause the new bridge to be used for only local traffic until the following year, 1979, when the new overflow channel bridge would be completed.

1993 aerial MapIndy photograph showing the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel (7300 block of Westfield Boulevard). Also shown is the abandoned Monon Railroad, prior to the creation of the Monon Trail.

With the opening of the Overflow Channel bridge, Westfield Boulevard was opened again for traffic from Broad Ripple to Nora…and hence north to the downtowns of Carmel and Westfield. While reaching downtown Westfield using the old road has become more difficult with the redesign of US 31 through Hamilton County, it still can be followed on maps – and for the most part in cars, as well.

US 40 at Terre Haute

Terre Haute, Indiana. Opinions of the town vary. No matter your opinion of the city on the Wabash, one thing is certain. Terre Haute’s place in transportation history is set in stone. There are so many subjects that can be covered about that city. Today, I am going to focus on one of the early important parts of that history: the National Road.

But before we can focus on the National Road history, a little bit of Terre Haute history is in order. The “high land,” or terre haute in French, had been the site of a Wea native American village for an unknown number of years before white settlement came in the form of Fort Harrison a few miles north of what would become the town of Terre Haute. When the Wea were forced to move from the area, their orchards and meadows became the site of the new town which would become the Vigo County seat of government with the creation of that county in 1818.

Fast forward to 1834, when the National Road was completed across Indiana. The reason for Terre Haute being on the route was simply because the route was to connect the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The capitals of Ohio and Indiana are still in the same location as they were then: Columbus and Indianapolis. But, the capital of Illinois was at Vandalia, meaning a southwestly route from Indianapolis. (Had the capital of Illinois been moved to Springfield when the road was being planned, it’s entirely possible that what is now US 36 west of Indiana would be US 40.)

Because Terre Haute was on an almost straight line between Indianapolis and Vandalia, it was natural for the road to connect to what, up to that point, had been an important town on the Wabash River and the Wabash and Erie Canal. The original road would come into town via the same route it does today, Wabash Avenue. Below is a 1925 map of the route of the National Road through Terre Haute. (The complete map, which I recommend if you have any interest in Terre Haute, or any of the other connections to the “Capital of the Wabash” at the time can be found here: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/3626/rec/2)

1925 map of Terre Haute centering on the National Road

To show that little had changed, the following map (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/2890/rec/6) is from 1907. According to the hand written notes on the map, the red lines represent Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern tracks, whether they be city street cars or the interurban to Indianapolis. The blue lines are the city boundary. (Honestly, the way those blue lines are drawn confuse the living Hades out of me. Check out the link!)

In 1917, the old road through Terre Haute was taken into the State Main Market Highway system as Road #3. (There were only 5.) Or, at least, it was supposed to be. Due to fighting about the Constitutionality of the Highway Law of 1917, the road would be designated but not officially under state maintenance until the new rewritten law of 1919. Thus, the National Road, along its original route, became State Road 3. In 1926, that was changed to US 40.

No changes would take place in the routing of US 40 until about 1974. At that point, westbound US 40 ran to US 41 (Third Street) on Wabash Street, turning north one block in multiplex, then turning west again to cross the new Cherry Street bridge over the Wabash River. Eastbound, it entered downtown on a new Ohio Street bridge to Third Street, where it turned one block north to Wabash Street and the original route.

1974-1975 Indiana Official Highway Map inset of Terre Haute

The next change would appear in 1977, when the eastbound used Ohio Street to 10 1/2 Street (at least that’s what it looks like on the official map of that year). The westbound route would turn north on Ninth Street to Cherry Street. It would stay this way until the mid 2010’s, when US 40 was completely removed from Terre Haute. At that time, the official US 40 route would be moved to “Old SR 46” (name on the street sign at this point), running south with SR 46 to I-70. US 40 then multiplexes with I-70 to just west of the Illinois-Indiana State Line.

1977 Indiana Official Highway Map inset of Terre Haute

West of Terre Haute, there would be several changes in the official route of US 40. Those I plan to cover at a later time.

US Highways: They are actually State Roads

I originally posted the following in the Indiana Transportation History group on 11 Jun 2014. It has been slightly edited to correct some “oopsies” in my original.

For those old enough to remember (and I, unfortunately, am not one of them) before the Interstate system came into being, and US routes were the cross-country method of auto transport, this post is for you.

Somewhere lost in the history of transportation is the true story behind the US Highway system. Believe it or not, the Federal Government was late to the “good roads” party, and really only joined it half-heartedly. Let me explain.

Near the end of the 19th Century, there was a craze sweeping the nation – bicycling. The problem was that most roads at the time were basically dirt paths through the country. Some were graveled, yes. Some were bricked, but mainly only in towns. Those that rode bicycles started clamoring for better roads to reliably and safely use their new-fangled transportation method.

The US Post Office was also involved in this movement, mainly because mail was that important. And delivering the mail in some rural locations was troublesome at best.

With the creation of the automobile boom in the early 20th century, the Good Roads Movement started including the drivers of the horseless carriage. Again, because most roads at the time were dusty at best, and practically impassible at worst.

Clubs started nationwide to encourage auto travel (the Hoosier Motor Club was one). Clubs were also started to encourage the creation of travel routes that were more than dirt roads to the next county seat.

These last clubs led to many named highways throughout the nation. For instance, Indianapolis was served by the (Andrew) Jackson Highway, Dixie Highway, Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, National Old Trails Road, the Hoosier Highway, Michigan Road, the Range Line Road, the Hills & Lakes Trail, and the Hoosier Dixie.

The most famous of the Road Clubs was the Lincoln Highway Association, which crossed Indiana through the northern tier of counties. On its trip from New York to San Francisco, it passed through Fort Wayne, Ligonier (included because it was the SECOND Ligonier on the route – the other being in Pennsylvania!), Goshen, Elkhart, South Bend, La Porte, and Valparaiso. (As you can guess, it wasn’t exactly a straight line at first!)

In 1926, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads finalized a national route system that became the US Highways. This was to combat the numerous named highways that led to some major confusion among the automobile traveling public. The system was discussed starting in 1924, with a preliminary list issued in late 1925.

Named highways painted markers on utility poles most of the time. It, apparently, was not unheard of to have numerous colored markers on one pole. And new named highways were popping up monthly. (They even kept appearing after the numbered highways started appearing.)

A misconception is that a US Highway is a Federal road. US Highways have a distinctive shield with a number. It can also have, legally, a State Road marker. That’s because US highways were really just state roads that shared the same number for its entire distance. So SR 40 in Indiana was also SR 40 in Illinois and Ohio, and so on. (INDOT has even posted SR 421 signage on SR 9 at the entrance ramps to I-74/US 421 in Shelbyville.)

While US highway numbers have come and gone across the state, most of them appeared in one of two phases – 1927 and 1951.

The original US Highways in Indiana were: 12, 20, 24, 27, 30, 31, 31E, 31W, 36, 40, 41, 50, 52, 112, and 150.

The second major phase included US 136, US 231, and US 421.

Between these two phases, the following roads were added:
– US 6 (1928)
– US 33 (1937)
– US 35 (1934) It required changing SR 35 to SR 135.
– US 36 – Yes, it is listed twice. US 36 originally ended at Indianapolis from the west. It was extended east in 1931.
– US 152 – Mostly followed US 52 (Lafayette Road) north from Indianapolis from 1934 to 1938. It never left the state, so it was downgraded to mostly state road 53 (which, strangely, was added BACK into the federal numbering system as US 231).
– US 224 (1933)
– US 460 (1947-1977)

These were added to the system in sections. For instance, US 6 came into Indiana from the east and ended up being routed along what, at the time, was Indiana State Road 6.

There have been many changes in the original US highways. Some have bypassed towns in many places (like US 31). Some have just been removed from the system (like the northern end of US 33). Some were replaced by the interstate system created in 1956 (like US 27 north of Fort Wayne).

The beginning of the end of the major importance of the US Highway system started in 1947, when AASHO deemed it “outmoded.” This led to the creation of the interstate system with a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1956.