Road Trips

A confluence of roads near Vandalia

The bonanza of abandoned old pavement along the Illinois National Road dries up just before Montrose, a little town just east of Effingham. Thence west, US 40 almost entirely follows the same alignment of the road from when Illinois paved it in concrete in the 1920s. From a postcard, here’s what that concrete looked like when it was new.


Almost all of that road is covered with asphalt today – almost. A little of this concrete is visible where US 40 and I-70 intersect east of Vandalia. This remarkable confluence of roads includes not only the original US 40 alignment, but a newer alignment of US 40 that bypassed Vandalia. Much of that bypass later became I-70.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

This 1920s concrete road was built 18 feet wide, where the old abandoned brick and concrete road well east of here was just 16 feet wide. But in this photo you can see concrete strips added on either side to widen it by a few extra feet. Notice also that the original middle portion of the road has no expansion joints, and so it cracked. The 1920s was a time of learning in roadbuilding, and later concrete roads all had expansion joints. This is an eastbound photo from the east end of the concrete alignment.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

EB from W end

I turned around in the same place to take this westbound photo. Notice the curved strip added on the north side of the road to let traffic flow into the later alignment of US 40, which bears right. The concrete alignment picks up dead ahead.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

WB from W end

What an awkward intersection these two old roads must have created when they were still in use.

Confluence of alignments

WB from W end

Here’s an eastbound photo of where the original US 40 alignment ends at I-70.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

EB from E end

I’ve seen topographic maps from 1969 and 1977 of this area. In the 1969 map, I-70 was nowhere in sight. In the 1977 map, this entire configuration existed. So the old concrete road was in use through sometime during the 1970s, and the time when I-70 merged onto US 40 here lasted a few years at most.

Road Trips, Stories Told

Avoiding Kokomo

One of the things that got me interested in the back highways was the city of Kokomo, Indiana. More accurately, it was avoiding Kokomo that helped spark my interest.

Long ago, US 31 went right through downtown Kokomo. But congestion became a problem, and so about 40 years ago a new four-lane US 31 was built to the east, bypassing the city. Businesses quickly sprouted along the bypass end to end – restaurants, gas stations, stores, even a mall. Stoplights multiplied like rabbits. Soon the bypass was even more congested than the original route through town had been.

Bypass on the left, old US 31 on the right

My dad let me have the spare car my senior year in college and at first I dutifully followed the route he always took when he drove me to school: US 31 from South Bend through Kokomo to Indianapolis, then I-465 west and south around the city, and then I-70 to Terre Haute. But I had to drive the Kokomo bypass only once to realize I didn’t want to do it again. The bumper-to-bumper traffic crawled along at 20 or 30 miles per hour, and I swear I stopped at every. last. stoplight.

It also didn’t help that the rest of the route was a crashing bore. Back then, Indiana’s maximum speed limit was 55 miles per hour. But both US 31 and I-70 were four-lane highways that begged for far greater speed.

So I began looking for alternative routes. I unfolded my Rand McNally map, which seems so quaint when I think about it now, and traced routes between my hometown and my college town. I found several suitable routes, all along two-lane Indiana state highways, and tried them all on my various trips back and forth. This was my first exposure to Indiana’s small towns and endless cornfields and I quickly became hooked.

Today, most of US 31 is posted at 60 MPH, and most of I-70 is posted at 70 MPH. I use these roads when I need to get somewhere in a hurry. But as much as possible I try to give myself plenty of time so I can enjoy driving through Indiana’s countryside.

Driving through Kokomo is still a drag, though. But not for much longer – the state is building another US 31 bypass even farther east of town. It’s a bypass of the bypass! This time they’re doing it right and making it an Interstate-style limited access highway. I’m sure I’ll try it out when it opens. But you’ll still be more likely to find me on a back highway.

And then there was the time I spun my car most of the
way through tiny Fulton, Indiana. Read that story

Road Trips

The disrupted National Road

I-70 and the National Road cling to each other for 18 miles between Morristown and Old Washington in eastern Ohio. Sometimes the two roads parallel each other closely; other times, they’re the same road. On this map, the blue line is the National Road. (Thanks to fellow National Road fan Christopher Busta-Peck for creating it; go here to see it on Google Maps.) As you can see, it’s often hard to tell where the National Road stops and I-70 begins.

I followed as much of the old road as still exists.  Overall it was a pleasant drive, for where the forlorn National Road remains, it is peaceful. I encountered not a single soul as I explored these miles.

Waymor Rd.

But this portion of my trip took some determination as the road frequently disappeared into I-70’s fill, as in the photo below. I backtracked twice to cross over I-70 and return to the road on the other side, and once I had to take a wide detour on rough gravel roads.

Wings Lane?

But along the way I encountered the only S bridge still open to traffic on the entire National Road. I’ll share photos next time.

Lots of old National Road bits have been left behind over the years. Check out this one in Maryland, and this one in Indiana.


Road Trips

Then there was the time I-70 jumped out in front of my car

More than 20 years ago 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 home, mostly along I-70. I was bored of the Interstate by the time I crossed into Ohio, and 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 regretted it almost immediately. My inner roadgeek had not yet awakened, and 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, but I blew by it 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 US 40 reassurance marker covered in black plastic, and then a big green sign also covered in black plastic. Was the road closed? Had I missed a detour? My concern turned to fright as I rounded a curve at 65 miles per hour 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 ten feet away from the end.

Rand McNally was wrong. US 40 didn’t merge onto I-70 here; rather, I-70 was built over 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.

Dead end

Here’s how the road curves in from the east.

Dead end

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.

Mt. Olivet Rd.

Turning around from there, it becomes apparent that the old westbound lanes were abandoned.

Mt. Olivet Rd.

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.