In about 1990 I made what remains the longest road trip of my life. I drove from Terre Haute to Mississauga, Ontario, to visit one friend, and then through Niagara Falls and across central New York, and then down to Edison, New Jersey, where I visited two other friends. Then I headed back to Indiana, mostly along I-70.
I was bored of the Interstate by the time I crossed into Ohio. When I saw an exit for US 40 at St. Clairsville, I took it. (This was just past the Blaine bridges, but I didn’t know that then.) I knew US 40 would take me all the way home if I let it.
I regretted it almost immediately. I was not amused by all the stoplights in St. Clairsville and by the fellow in front of me who was determined to drive 15 miles per hour less than the speed limit. I got out my big Rand McNally atlas (which seems downright quaint now) and looked for a way to get back onto I-70. It showed that US 40 merged onto I-70 ten or so miles ahead, just past Morristown. It even showed that the road widened to four lanes a few miles ahead of the merge.
The slowpoke turned off, and in relief I put my foot into the gas pedal. I reached an intersection where signs said to turn left to reach I-70, which puzzled me. I blew by them eager to drive the four-lane US 40 just ahead.
I had the four-lane highway to myself. A rusty guardrail divided the eastbound and westbound lanes. Then I passed a road sign covered in black plastic, and then another. Was the road closed? Had I missed a detour? But I was cruising happily at 65 miles per hour and let my concerns roll off my back.
Then I rounded a curve and found myself staring right into a hillside. With no warning, the road ended right at its base! I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop just feet away from the end.
Rand McNally was wrong. US 40 didn’t merge onto I-70 here; rather, I-70 was built on top of US 40, at least 30 feet up.
I returned to the scene of my fright on this trip. Here’s the old highway at its dead end. I’m told that the road is pretty much always flooded here now. Also, the dividing guardrail was removed at some point.
Here’s how the road curves in from the east.
Here’s the view from the air. Simply put, I-70 was built here along the alignment of US 40 and the National Road.
US 40 follows I-70 for about the next 18 miles, to the town of Old Washington. But a remnant of old US 40 and the National Road appears just a mile later, as it emerges from underneath I-70. It’s marked as Co. Rd. 102 and Mt. Olivett Rd. on this map. Before I-70, as it headed west it cut directly across the exit at State Route 800 and followed Co. Rd. 108.
Here’s where the old road resumes. Notice how the seam down the middle goes straight even though the road was later made to curve away to connect to another county road.
Turning around from there, it becomes apparent that the old westbound lanes were abandoned.
The routing of I-70 from here west to Old Washington did a real number on the National Road, but other bits and pieces remain as state and county roads if you know where to look. We’ll explore them in the next post.
I-70 obliterated some of the National Road as it crosses from Indiana into Illinois, too. Check it out.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!
Last updated on 21 March 2020 by Jim Grey