INDOT’s Reference Post System

In 1999, the Indiana Department of Transportation decided that it was time to come up with a system that would help better keep track of features along the roads that for which it was responsible. While is would be based, according to INDOT, on the mileage of the road, it was not a milepost system. It was a locator for maintenance items, other than signs, on the state highway system.

RPS 86 on US 40, Marion County, Indiana (Washington Park Cemetery). From Google Maps, snipped 23 December 2020.

There are many parts to the system. The one that most people would have seen, but not really noticed, were the signs that were put up for use with the system. These consisted of small blue signs with a mile number on it, with a smaller sign, if needed, below it with an offset to that mile on it. The signs themselves were barely wider than the post they were on. Very small in relation to most highway signs. Since they are technically only for INDOT use, their size wasn’t a concern. The public wouldn’t notice them, lessening the sign pollution that departments of transportation have been trying to keep under control forever.

RP 88, Offset .88, US 40 bridge of Buck Creek, Cumberland

I really wish I could have had a better snippet for the offset post, but then, the idea was to give the reader the image of what they roughly look like, so the reader would know what to look for.

The RPS manual is very detailed in its information. For instance, the picture to the left is listed as “RP_U_40_Post_86,” meaning “Reference Post, US 40, Post 86.” The one on the right is listed as “CUMBERLAND CORP. LINE BR 4588 O BUCK CREEK,” at least in the 2004 manual.

US 40 is a very prime example of why this system isn’t to be used as a mileage post system. The system was setup prior to the 1 July 1999 decommissioning of US 31, SR 37 and US 40 inside the Interstate 465 loop. What was, in 1999, marked as mile 86 on US 40 is, in 2020, at mile 92.37 on that very same road in 2004. In 2016, the last update from INDOT, it was listed as US 40 mile 65.179. The legal definition of US 40 was lengthened when it was rerouted along the southside of Indianapolis on I-465 in 2004. By a little over six miles. By 2016, the extra mileage along I-465 was removed to show a more accurate road mileage count towards INDOT’s limit of 12,000 miles.

But there is a bit more to the reference post system that comes into play. Each highway listed in the RPS not only includes the complete mileage for the road in Indiana, but they are also listed by the mileage per county, as well. For instance, reference post 86 above is listed as Marion County mile 24.06 in 2004. In the 2016 manual, that mileage is 5.027.

Then, the reference post system records almost everything along the road. This includes EVERY village/town/city street that intersects with the posted road. For instance, near reference post 86 is, in the 2004 manual, “86 + 0.21 24.52 IR 4193 LT (DELBRICK LN).” At reference post location 86.21, 24.52 route miles into Marion County, Delbrick Lane connects to Washington Street (US 40) on the left (north) side of the road. Directions are listed from the increasing number of the reference post. Every street is listed, although almost none of them have a reference post sign.

Also, the corporation limits of towns and cities are listed by the reference post location, although there is no reference post installed most of the time. This even includes old corporation limits. For instance, in the 2016 manual, reference post 85+0.686 is listed as “City or Town Limit – Indianapolis.” Post Road is reference post 86+0.668. Legally, Indianapolis continues for another at least two miles (the sign welcoming one to Indianapolis is west of German Church Road, the county line is another mile east of that, but that is in the town of Cumberland. And even legally, Cumberland is part of Indianapolis. It is as confusing as all get out, but suffice it to say, for the past 50 years, the city limits of Indianapolis have been the county limits of Marion County, with some exceptions. Certainly not Post Road.

But the idea of the legal multiplex of I-465 with almost every INDOT road in Marion County (there are two that don’t mix with I-465: US 136 and SR 135) that brings up another question. What about multiplexes of state roads?

When the system was created in 1999, it was designed with a hierarchy of roads. That hierarchy was interstate, US highway, then state road, in that order. INDOT does not use the term “multiplex” officially. It is called “travel over” in Indiana. The following picture comes from the INDOT RPS guide of 1999 showing how “travel overs” are handled when it comes to marking the mileage of the road.

Indiana Department of Transportation Reference Post System Users Guide, May 1999.

As you can see, near Frankfort, US 421 takes precedence with the little blue signs. SR 39 is junior to SR 38 when it comes to the signs, only due to the fact that 38 is before 39 numerically.

The system underwent some changes between 2004 and 2015. In 2015, it was made perfectly clear that the manual may contain some mistakes, but that every effort was taken to avoid them.

There was also a special note involving US 40 in Vigo County. When US 40 was removed from most of Vigo County, and rerouted along I-70 and SR 46, the RPS system was not changed to reflect that. The section of US 40 that “travels over” SR 46 is still labelled as SR 46. Here is INDOT’s explanation: “US 40 in Vigo County has a special issue that needs to be addressed. Due to relinquishments and creating a travel over for US 40, the alignment does not follow the historic path. US 40 now traverses where SR 46 has traditionally been and SR 46 is considered the Travel Over on US 40. However, the existing reference posts are still for the SR 46 route and are running in a contrary direction to the increasing direction of US 40. Therefore, for the purposes of this book, RP and Offset for the first 3 miles of US are based on the State Log Measure until it reaches the traditional location for US 40 and then jumps to RP 11 + 00 at the intersection of SR 46 and US 40.”

I mentioned above about the original system being put in place prior to the decommissioning of routes in Marion County. It is important to note that there were more routes affected than just those that were moved to I-465. Those routes were US 31, SR 37 and US 40. The mileage on those roads got weird, yes. But there were two others that were affected by the change…and one most people didn’t even realize.

SR 135 was rerouted from Troy Avenue to Thompson Road, cutting two miles out of the official route. This just required moving the little blue signs from north of Thompson Road, and surveying what else would need signs. And what wouldn’t.

The other route affect wasn’t even marked when it was decommissioned. Shadeland Avenue on the east side of Marion County was still legally SR 100 from I-465 to US 40 (Washington Street) until 1 July 1999. For the longest time, the only marker on SR 100 was a smaller blue sign below the reference post signs that read “100.”

INDOT has available on their website the RPS manuals for 2004, 2015 and 2016. Also available is the users guide from 1999. Here are the links for each: Users Guide200420152016

1917: Main Roads to Fort Benjamin Harrison Need Work

When Fort Benjamin Harrison was built in Lawrence Township, in northeastern Marion County, getting there was quite the chore. It has been built along the Big Four’s Bellefontaine, or Bee, line. This allowed steam locomotives to pass by the new Army post on a regular basis. The Big Four, with its affiliation with the New York Central, could get Army traffic to and from the fort to almost any place in the United States without much effort.

The workforce for the new fort would come on either the Bee line, or the new Indiana Union Traction line that connected Indianapolis to Anderson, Muncie and Fort Wayne. Although it didn’t last much more than three decades, this was an important way to access the fort. The station for that interurban line still exists…and is open to the public as a Mexican restaurant (as of this writing) called the Hacienda.

But automobile traffic was becoming more and more important. Even more important was the transit of Army vehicles to and from Fort Benjamin Harrison. To that end, in the spring of 1917, the commander of the station, General Edwin F. Glenn, sought to get improvements to the road system to the fort. With this in mind, he held a conference with Marion County government and business leaders to share what he had in mind.

The Indianapolis Star, 10 June 1917. Map of the north east side of Marion County, showing improvements needed to access Fort Benjamin Harrison.

First and foremost in the General’s mind was the main road to the fort – the Pendleton Pike. Technically, the Pendleton Pike started at the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Bee Line connection to the Indianapolis Belt Railway just east of Brightwood Avenue (Sherman Drive). West of that point, it was called Massachusetts Avenue. The county had taken over the Pendleton Toll Road in the late 1880s. But little was done for its improvement or maintenance. By the time the Army created the fort, the road was little more than a connection to other roads in rural Marion County and downtown Indianapolis. Many battles were fought about the improvement of the road, lasting past the end of World War I, when such improvements were vital.

The Pendleton Pike, in 1917, was being improved…slowly but surely. The plan was to concrete the road from the Indianapolis City Limits to 38th Street, just west of what is now Shadeland Avenue. From there, the first of the two sections to the fort’s main north-south entrance, would be improved with heavy stone. This would take the heavy stone from 38th Street to the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, or Franklin Road. The next section would be graveled. This section ran from Franklin Road to the Yerger or Acre Free Gravel Road, now known as Post Road. The section of the Post Road, connecting Pendleton Pike to the interior of Fort Benjamin Harrison, was being hard surfaced with a “special preparation,” according to the Indianapolis Star of 10 June 1917.

The next road to get attention was the “54th Street Road,” connecting west from the fort to Millersville. Those of you from the area might be a little confused. The village of Millersville was along the Fall Creek, just inside the Washington Township border at what is now Emerson Way. The main drag from Fort Benjamin Harrison is now called 56th Street, not 54th. That road was built along the half-survey line starting where the Millersville and Fall Creek Free Gravel Roads come together near what is now Emerson Way at Millersville Road. The highlighted section of the following MapIndy photo, from 1952, shows the original route connecting the Millersville Road to the old Fall Creek & Mud Creek Road. (At the time, what is now Rucker Road continued south of what is now Fall Creek Road. It would be that way until sometime before 1962, when two lakes were built. The Rucker Road extension would finally be taken out sometime between 1979 and 1986.)

The Millersville Road, according to the Indianapolis Star “is by no means a direct route to the fort. It begins at Thirty-eighth street and Fall Creek and meanders northeast about eight miles to the famous Baker’s bridge and thence southeast a quarter of a mile to the fort grounds.” Baker’s Bridge is along the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, now called Boy Scout Road, in the northwest corner of the Fort Benjamin Harrison grounds. General Glenn wanted the entirety of the Millersville Road covered with gravel…a job that, according to the General, with five wagons in two days. The first three miles of the Millersville Road had already been improved with asphalt. The next half mile being oiled gravel. The rest of the road was gravel…and work was being done at the time to repair damage done by large, heavy, loads transiting the road.

Other roads being worked on for access to the fort were the National Road from Irvington to Acre Road, Emerson Avenue, Arlington Avenue, 34th Street and the Acre Road itself.

At the time, National Road was the actual name of the Washington Street extension outside the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Sheridan Avenue in Irvington. West of Sheridan, it was Washington. East of that point, it was the National Road. The first mile of the National Road, from Sheridan Avenue, was being concreted. That would end near what is now Shortridge Road and Washington Street. The next two miles from Shortridge Road east were already concreted at that time. That would take it to a point east of Acre (Post) Road. The Acre Road, as of 10 June 1917, was closed for construction of a stone road stretching five miles north to the Pendleton Pike and into the fort.

Emerson and Arlington Avenues were also under construction at the time. Both were being concreted from Washington Street (both are west of Sheridan Avenue) to the Pendleton Pike. Emerson Avenue met Pendleton Pike at roughly 30th Street. Emerson Avenue, at least the southern section of said, ended at the Bee Line. Neither 30th Street nor Emerson Avenue crossed the railroad tracks, and passage past those tracks was done at an underpass on 32nd Street.

Arlington Avenue meets Pendleton Pike (now Massachusetts Avenue) at 34th Street. Improvements along 34th Street included asphalt paving from the Lake Erie & Western (Nickel Plate) Railroad crossing for three miles to the east to what was the northern section of Emerson Avenue. From there to Arlington Avenue, 34th Street was a stone road. Prior to being called 34th Street, the road was the Fall Creek & Warren Township Free Gravel Road.

It would take some time until the roads were improved for to the General’s liking. With the creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1917, the National Road was taken over as Main Market Road #3. It wouldn’t be until 1923 that the Pendleton Pike would find itself part of the state highway system, entering that system as Original State Road 37. By then, the war was over, and traffic to Fort Benjamin Harrison had, while not stopping completely, had slowed considerably as it normally does after the completion of a war. The fort would, eventually, get its connections to the road system other than SR 67/US 36 (Pendleton Pike). In 1941, 56th Street west out of the fort would become part of SR 534, a designation it would only hold for a few years before that state road was routed straight down Shadeland Avenue. With the building of the Interstate system, which was technically built for the defense of the United States, Fort Benjamin Harrison would find itself with two exits from I-465 (Pendleton Pike and 56th Street) and one on I-70 (Post Road). I suppose the Post Road exit on I-74 could technically be listed as part of that…but it is quite a distance from the Fort.

When Property Owners Put Themselves Ahead of Military

In 1903, the United States Army opened a fort in Lawrence Township called Fort Benjamin Harrison. It was quite the fixture in Marion County for a lot of years, until the late 1990s when the federal government decided that the fort was no longer needed. Fort Benjamin Harrison was returned to the state, most of which became Fort Harrison State Park. But if one property owner had his way, the fort would have moved out a long time before it actually did…like in 1918.

The Indianapolis News of 27 May 1918 reports that a project that the military wanted was on hold due to a lawsuit filed by a property owner. The project in question was the improvement in Lawrence Township of the Pendleton Pike, the quickest route between downtown Indianapolis and Fort Benjamin Harrison.

John Reichart, through his lawyer William V. Rooker, filed a suit in circuit court against the improvement of the Pendleton Pike. His suit was intended to benefit property that he owned along the Thomas C. Day Road. According to the article, “due to particularities of the antique road laws of Indiana, may have a priority right of construction over the Pendleton Pike.” The suit was brought on the theory that the payment by the county for the Pendleton Pike project “would cloud the title of his client’s property in view of the priority right this road might have over the Pendleton Pike.” The road in question forms the township line between Warren and Lawrence Townships. That road today is called 38th Street.

Due to the road indebtedness limit of Lawrence Township, the improvement of both roads would not be possible. The Chamber of Commerce, through its military affairs committee, started out to get all of the petitioners of the Day Road to sign waivers allowing for improvement of Pendleton Pike. Forty five people signed the waivers. There were only three people that did not.

The first hearing of the suit was set for 1 June 1918, in the court room of Judge Louis B. Ewbank. Although Judge Ewbank could deny the injunction, “an appeal to the supreme court might still further delay the work on the road.” At this point, according to the News, the improvement of the Pendleton Pike could be delayed until 1919.

The question that comes up is why did the state not step in and claim the road for the state? Well, the constitutionality of the State Highway Commission law of 1917 was still in play. It wouldn’t be until the new law was passed in 1919 that state could have done anything about it. Even then, the Pendleton Pike wasn’t accepted into the state system, at least to the Marion-Hancock County Line, until at least 1922. By 1923, the road all the way to Pendleton became state road 37.

Due to World War I, traffic to and from Fort Harrison increased exponentially. Crushed stone was put on the old Pike out to Acre (now Post) Road. County commissioners “spent practically all of the road maintenance fund of the county in keeping up the repair of the fort roads as best they could.” John J. Griffith, county road superintendent, describes the graveling, at a cost of $8,000, was “like throwing money into a ditch as far as any permanent benefit was concerned. The traffic to the fort made it necessary for half of this stretch of road to be temporarily repaired, while the other half was used by vehicles.” The county is, at the time of this article, trying to get the Thirtieth Street road from Pendleton Pike to the post, or Acre, road improved as a bypass to allow construction on the Pike. Acre Road is a stone road running from Washington Street (National Road) north to the fort. It is reported in good condition.

Mr. Johnson, County Attorney, recommended that another way of fixing the road may be available. “The surest way to get the permanent improvement of the pike in Lawrence township completed by fall would be for a number of patriotic men to agree to underwrite the bonds for the improvement, so that the contractor could go ahead with the work while the legal questions were being thrashed out.” The bonds in question were estimated to be in the neighborhoo of $73,000.

The News makes the point that the Day Road would be of no benefit to the fort. It is also noted that it is “doubtful if the state council of defense would give its approval for its construction at this time even though the question of the fort road were not involved.”

A motion in the case would be filed on 21 May 1918 to separate the actions into two cases, one for Pendleton Pike, and one for the Main Market Highways. It would seem that the lawsuit filed by William Rooker had postponed not only the Pendleton Pike work, but also that on the Main Market Highways designated by the State Highway Commission law of 1917.

By 4 July 1918, the News reported the the State Council of Defense recommended that Marion County’s Center Township annex Lawrence Township to ensure that the Pike gets the improvements needed. Even the lawyer, William Rooker, stated that he would drop his lawsuit if this plan was put into place. Needless to say, there were eight other governmental townships in Marion County, and the residents of those townships, that were not at all enthused with the idea of becoming part of Center Township.

Through the efforts of both Marion County and the State of Indiana, Fort Benjamin Harrison would remain in Lawrence Township. As it turned out, the end of World War I in 1918 would decrease the crush of traffic to the fort, allowing some time to complete the Pendleton Pike and Day Road projects.