The Status of Indiana Road Building, 1928

Within the first decade of the second creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission, the state found itself building, maintaining and upgrading roads at a furious pace. Up to that point, the ISHC was taking over roads slowly. This also meant that paving of those roads was slowly creeping forward. But 1928 saw the biggest improvement in state highways to that time. The Indianapolis Star of 16 January 1929 had an entire section called the “Good Roads Review” that covered the feat.

After the passing of the second ISHC act in 1919, the state started adding to the highway system as it could. A limiting factor, at the time, was money. The ISHC finances were slow in coming together. But it was also important to hold to the mandate of connecting the seats of government for each of the 92 Indiana counties to each other via state highways. A program of road and bridge building was pushed by Governor Harry Leslie in 1928. To that end, the ISHC was hoping for a large infusion of money to further the program, and to put Indiana on par with its neighbors when it came to good quality roads. Governor Leslie addressed the General Assembly to pass a bill to give the ISHC an additional 5 to 6 million dollars for the goal.

At the time, the state highway system consisted of 5,000 miles of roads, 2,800 of which were still in need of improvement. Most state highways at the time were gravel. But maintenance costs were skyrocketing due to major increases in traffic. This led the ISHC to believe that paving, instead of maintaining, these roads was both more cost effective and beneficial to the motorist of the Hoosier State.

At the close of the 1928 fiscal year, Indiana had improved 1,060.1 miles of its Federal aid highway system. Most of that was spent towards paving the roads, not just maintaining them. To put it into perspective, Indiana had 4,701.5 miles of Federal aid roads at the end of the same fiscal year. That meant that only 22.5 percent of those road had been improved. This put Indiana 31st in the Union when it came to the mileage of those roads. Most other states were gravelling roads as Indiana was pushing concrete road surfaces. Texas, for example, had completed as much as 50% of their Federal aid roads, much of that in gravel.

The government of the state had placed a higher priority on the “more bang for the buck” idea of infrastructure improvements. This stemmed from when the state would just throw money at projects, and almost had to file for bankruptcy. That in turn led to the Indiana Constitution of 1851, which forced financial responsibility on the government.

But that didn’t help Indiana in the sheer numbers of paved mileage. Illinois and Michigan both had 6,000 miles of paved road. Ohio had 11,000. Kentucky, at the end of 1928, had 4,000.

The plan for 1929 called for 220 miles of paved roads to be added to the state highway system. The Star listed those projects in the collection of articles. US 24 (called State Road 24 in the newspaper – there is no difference, really) would have 75 miles of paving done in 1929: 35 miles between Monticello and Huntington; and 40 miles at the eastern end of the road. US 50 between Vincennes and Aurora would add 50 miles of pavement. SR 29 between Greensburg and Shelbyville, 27 miles, would also get the same treatment. Another planned project was 27 miles of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford.

Two gaps in US 27 between Fort Wayne and Richmond would be completed during the summer of 1929. One, a 12 mile stretch north of Winchester. The other, 10 miles south of Berne. SR 16 was planned for 15 miles of paving between Rensselaer and Remington. The last project listed included US 150, with about two miles near West Baden on the list.

Dec 1917: Main Market Roads Officially Announced

When the law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in early 1917, the announcement was also made that there were would five main market highways, later known as state roads, designated by that commission. There was a general idea of which roads would be involved, bot nothing set in stone. That is, until December 1917.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 12 December 1917 announced the selection of the new main market highways. ISHC officials traveled throughout the state deciding which roads would be part of the new, and yet controversial, system. “A former election of four of the five routes was tentative, and although the general directions of the four roads announced formerly have been adhered to in the official selection, many changes have been made.”

The plan was to create a system which was typical of Indiana’s general demeanor: serve as many people as possible with as little cost and intrusion as possible. Due to the shape of the state of Indiana, it was decided that there would be three roads crossing the state, west to east, from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line. One north-south road would be designated through the middle of the state. This was the basis of the first four main market roads. A fifth road would connect the fourth road to the Illinois state line in the southern part of the state. The December 1917 system included roughly 800 miles of roads.

The main market highways were officially described as follows: “No. 1. The highway beginning at the Indiana and Michigan state line, thence southerly through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Kokomo, Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis, Franklin, Columbus, Seymour, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, New Albany and Jeffersonville.” In the Auto Trail era, there was no one highway this route followed. It seems that it was planned very early to have a split in the highway at the south end, with one branch going to New Albany, and one going to Jeffersonville. And although the route numbers have changed, that split has existed in one form or another since that time.

Main Market Road #2: “The highway passing through the northern part of the state, beginning, at the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Dyer, Valparaiso, Laporte, South Bend, Goshen and Fort Wayne via the Lincoln Highway to the Ohio and Indiana state line.” Depending on how one reads that, it could be that the Lincoln Highway was only used from Fort Wayne to the Ohio state line. This is far from true. It was decided that the entire original route of the Lincoln Highway through the state would be used for Road #2.

Main Market Road #3: “The highway crossing the central part of the state, commonly called the old national road trail, beginning at the corner of the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Terre Haute, Brazil, Putnamville, Plainfield, Indianapolis, Greenfield, Knightstown, Cambridge City and Richmond to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #4: “The road crossing the southern part of the state, beginning at Evansville, thence easterly through Boonville, Huntingburg, Jasper, West Baden, Paoli, Mitchell, Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and Lawrenceburg to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #5: “The road connecting Vincennes and Mitchell, via Wheatland, Washington, Loogootee and Shoals.” Basically, this road was designated to connect main market road 4 to Vincennes. Again, this is due to the shape of the state. A (more or less) straight line across Indiana from Cincinnati west would, as is shown by the route of the current US 50, connect to Vincennes, leaving people south of there without a main market road. Evansville was, and still is, one of the top five largest cities in the state, population wise. So ignoring that city would not have been possible.

The article ends with the following: “The total mileage of the roads represents less than one-half of the total 2,000 miles of ‘main market highways’ which the commission may designate under the new state highway commission law prior to 1921.” The law that passed in 1917 created a state highway system so that Indiana could benefit from federal money for good roads. It wasn’t until the law was redone in 1919, with all of the 1917 law’s Constitutional questions answered, that the Indiana State Highway System was officially made part of the landscape.