US and Interstate Numbers and the “Crossroads of America”

Indiana has been considered the “Crossroads of America” for a very long time. This moniker was cemented for all time when, in 1926, the United States Highway system was established.

In the original US highway scheme of things, all major cross-country east-west routes end in “0.” This can be seen when looking at a map of the United States. Starting in the north with US 10, migrating to the south with US 90. Indiana, given its place in the country, ended up with more than its share of “0” highways. Look at it: Indiana has US 20, US 30, US 40 and US 50. A quick glance at northern Kentucky will show that US 60 is just outside the state.

The major north-south routes all ended in “1.” Indiana has both US 31 and US 41. The difference in the north-south major routes is that they were numbered from US 1 on the east coast to US 101 on the west coast. The next majors are further away in this plan, with US 21 being, originally, in eastern Ohio going south, and US 51 being through central Illinois.

Let’s focus on the major US routes as originally planned. The following snippets are from the Indianapolis News of 27 September 1926. The road descriptions would become active on 1 October 1926.

US 20 was originally designated from Newport, Oregon, to Boston, Massachusetts. The road through Indiana included the Dunes Highway, part of the Lincoln Highway, and part of the Michigan Road. Originally, it would not follow the older roads into South Bend. It would be designated along a straight east-west road from Rolling Prairie into South Bend. At South Bend, it would stay north of the St. Joseph River.

US 30 was designated from Astoria, Oregon, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through Indiana, it followed the what became the “new” Lincoln Highway, which was original SR 2. The original Lincoln Highway was SR 2, but was redesignated when the state decided to “straighten” the road between the two state lines.

US 31 was, once, a route that connected Mobile, Alabama, to north of St. Ignace, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. In Indiana, it was original SR 1 its entire routing through the state.

US 40 started, originally, in San Francisco, California. The eastern end was in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through Indiana, it followed the route of the old National Road (roughly), and the National Old Trails Road from Terre Haute to Richmond. At Richmond, the two old roads separated, with the National Road going to Springfield, Ohio, and the NOTR going to Eaton and Dayton before reconnecting at Springfield.

Connecting Miami, Florida, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, through Chicago, US 41 took the place, in Indiana, of original SR 10 along the western tier of counties. Some of the original US 41 was moved over time and replaced with SR 63.

Originally, US 50 connected San Francisco, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. Through Indiana, it traverses the southern part of the state from Vincennes to Lawrenceburg. There have been many route changes throughout the years, some straightening and some bypasses.

The moniker “Crossroad of America” was further cemented with the creation of the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” commonly known as the Interstate Highway system. It is also known by the name of its major champion as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.” As originally planned, major east-west routes ended, just like the US highways, with a “0.” North-south major routes ended with a “5.”

Indiana ended up with interstate routes 70, 80 and 90. When the system was created, there was no I-50 or I-60. The closest thing to a “major” I-60 route would be I-64, which also traverses Indiana. When it came to north-south routes, Indiana only ended up with I-65. Part of this stems from the lack of suitable major routes through the state, and part stems from the usage of major numbers for shorter sections of highways (I-45 and I-85).

However, plans are in the works to make two more major interstates, without major numbers. The first is I-69, which will eventually connect the Mexican border in southern Texas to the Canadian Border at its current northern terminus at Port Huron, Michigan. (Technically, the section of I-69 from Lansing to Port Huron is labelled “East I-69.”) The other is I-74, which will eventually connect the Quad Cities area of Illinois/Iowa to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Currently, I-74 ends in Cincinnati. But there are sections in North Carolina, sections in progress in South Carolina, and signage pending in West Virginia. With all of the interstate highways in Indiana becoming, eventually, connected to the almost the entire country, the name “Crossroads of America” is not likely to be removed from the state for a long time to come.

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.