Indianapolis and Requested Changes to the Interstates

The construction of the interstates in and around Indianapolis were always contentious. Whether it be a direct route to the northeast side, or the routing of Interstate 65 from downtown, controversy was never a stranger to the entire process. Things were desired, things were shot down. Today, I want to focus on some requests from the Metropolitan Plan Commission to the State Highway Commission when it came to the designs of both I-465 on the east side and I-65 on the south side. These requests were publicized in July 1968.

The reason that the Metropolitan Plan Commission ever was involved in the first place was a then new Federal regulation designating the group as the review agency for the entire region. The MPC was given review powers over any project that used Federal funds in any way.

The first project that they wanted to change involved I-465 from 56th Street to White River. The major recommendation for this project is that land be acquired between the interstate and Shadeland Avenue, then SR 100, for landscaping between the two. The MPC also made the request that SR 100 between Fort Benjamin Harrison and Castleton be widened, eventually.

Two other recommendations for I-465 were purchase of more right of way in the area of Allisonville Road and 82nd Street, and the removal of the planned 75th Street bridge. The first would allow improvements to the intersection of Allisonville and 82nd…something that is always needed, especially after improvements are made. The second would have eliminated any crossing of the interstate between 82nd Street, which at the time was SR 100, and 71st Street.

The major recommendations were made to the south side on Interstate 65, however. Those recommendations would lead to a very different scenario for those traveling I-65 between Thompson Road and Whiteland Road.

The first recommendation involved Stop 8 Road, now called Edgewood Avenue. The original plan involved Stop 8 Road crossing over the interstate, as it does to this day. The MPC recommended that plan be scrapped, and a full interchange be put in at Stop 8 Road. The building of the current overpass at Edgewood required the demolition of two homes, and the building of an access road to several others. As shown in the 1962 MapIndy aerial photograph below, it would have required much more ROW acquisition.

The second recommendation was to change the planned interchange at Southport Road to just a grade separation. That’s right. The busy intersection of Southport Road and Emerson Avenue would have not involved an interstate interchange as it does today. I am unsure why such a recommendation would have been made. Below is an aerial picture of the area in 1962.

Next, the Metropolitan Plan Commission recommended a change to the width of the Stop 11 bridge clearance, making it wider. This would allow a wider roadway under Stop 11 Road. They also recommended that it be considered for conversion to a full interchange at a later point.

The last two recommendations would allow for a wider roadway for the interstate, and room for expansion later. The two bridges that would be involved were the Emerson Avenue bridge and the County Line Road bridge. The ROW under these two structures, it was recommended, should be wider.

In the end, most of the recommendations involving interchanges were shot down in the end. Southport Road became the access point to I-65. You could still cross the interstates at Edgewood Avenue, Stop 11 Road, and 75th Street. The bridges at Emerson and County Line were made wider and higher for future expansion.

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.