US 31 In Johnson and Marion Counties

When the state highway system was finally created with the State Highway Commission law of 1919, it was immediately apparent that there were some shortcomings in the designated system. A lot of these shortcomings came from the fact that the state road system was pasted to the top of an already county road system in place at the time. Even then, some of these roads were as old, or older, as the state itself. Towns were built along these old routes, crowding in on the road. When the state needed to expand the system, the towns were already in the way.

A typical example of this is what became US 31 out of Indianapolis, both north and south. I covered the US 31 route north of Indianapolis on 20 March 2019. While doing some research on something else, I found articles concerning the route of US 31 south of Indianapolis. Especially the section from Greenwood to Franklin.

For those that don’t know, the original route of Main Market Highway 1/OSR 1/US 31 followed the old Madison State Road, a route that started at South and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis south through Southport, Greenwood, Franklin, Edinburgh, and Columbus. At Columbus, the original road turned southeast through Vernon to Madison. What became US 31 south of Columbus was another road connecting to Louisville.

The first problem (south of Indianapolis) with the route came to the town of Greenwood. Greenwood was incorporated as a town long after both the Madison State Road and the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad came through northern Johnson County. (Incorporation – 1864) With the traffic coming through Greenwood, the area around what is now Main Street and Madison Avenue, and along Main Street to the railroad, became very clustered with buildings. (Contrary to popular opinion, the center of Greenwood isn’t either on Main Street, or Madison Avenue. It’s actually at the corner of Meridian Street [the Greenwood version] and Broadway Street.)

The situation came to a head in 1931 when the state wanted to pave and expand US 31 south of Indianapolis. Even through the town of Southport, which was only skirted by the old Madison State Road, expansion would not have been that big a deal. Even through what is now northern Greenwood, there was room for expansion. But the central intersection of the town became a thorn in the side of the ISHC. Adding insult to injury, there was parking allowed on both sides of the highway through central Greenwood. The Edinburgh Courier of 20 March 1931 states “when asked about prohibiting parking in Greenwood on the highway route, members of the Greenwood town board stated that such an order had been adopted some time ago but that the merchants had complained, forcing the withdrawal of the order.”

At the time of the article, there was a discussion to build a new US 31 around the town. The article states “the new roadway to leave the present route south of Greenwood and to pass through several real estate developments north of Greenwood before rejoining the present pavement.” It also states that “when a similar plea for the widening of Road 31 route was made, a movement was proposed at Greenwood to widen Madison Avenue, over which Road 31 traffic passes, by the moving back of buildings or the razing of a part of the buildings to make possible the widening of the street.” So, basically, in 1931 there were two options: bypass or tear down.

As it turned out, neither option would be acted upon at the time. The ISHC found another plan to help reduce traffic from Indianapolis to Franklin. The idea was to have traffic travel the old Three Notch Road, which would become SR 35, to Old Bargersville, then along a newly acquired state road from Old Bargersville to Franklin. That new road would become SR 144. As it turned out, this proposed “solution” was part of the ISHC plan of 1931.

The pending paving of US 31, as discussed above, would leave in place the current conditions of US 31 from Indianapolis to the corner of Main and Jefferson Streets in Franklin. The route of US 31 through Franklin would not be completely addressed until 1947.

As it turned out, the widening of US 31 at Greenwood would happen with the starting of construction on a bypass of Southport and Greenwood in 1941, a decade after the article quoted above. Part of the irony of that is the fact that part of the congestion of the right-of-way of the old road was the “Greenwood” interurban line from Indianapolis to Columbus. In 1941, the last interurban out of Indianapolis, on this line, had a head on crash in Edinburgh, ending the railroad company. By the opening of the bypass in 1942, the interurban was being ripped out.

The old Madison State Road through Perry Township, Marion County, and Pleasant Township, Johnson County, would be redesignated SR 431, just like the northern section of old US 31 through Broad Ripple and Carmel. It would stay that way until 1986, when the state gave it back to Indianapolis and Greenwood (after a major widening project in Indianapolis, mind you).