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Indianapolis, the capital of Indiana and the largest city in the state is best known as the Crossroads of America. This nickname extends to the rest of the state as well, but it is within Indianapolis where many of the state’s interstate and U.S. highways converge. This brings the city within easy access of most of the country and makes it the trade center for Central Indiana.
Indianapolis was platted in 1820 by Alexander Ralston, whose plan for the city consisted of a mile square area that was bordered by North, South, East and West Streets and near the banks of the White River. This plan consisted of an orderly square with Meridian Street forming the north-south axis and Market Street forming the east-west access. Together, they converged on Monument Circle, which is today the heart of Indianapolis. Washington Street, one block south of Market Street, was where the National Road, the first highway in Indianapolis, went through. Up until the 1980s, U.S. 40 followed Washington Street through the city just as the National Road did. The plan was inspired by the Washington, D.C. plan, which Ralston had helped in creating, and consists of diagonal avenues radiating from the square to the four corners of the square. Other than Meridian, Market, and Washington Streets, the other roads were named for states.
In its early history, Indianapolis did not grow much, due to the fact that it was not on a navigable waterway. It was only when the railroads came into the city that the population started to boom, since Indianapolis was situated in a place for the crossroads of the railroads. In the 20th Century, this would translate into early highways coming into the city, converging in Indianapolis on their trips across the country. Starting in the 1950s, the interstate highways began their way into the city, starting with the outlying areas and the Interstate 465 loop and finally into the heart of the city via I-65 and I-70. In the 1960s, as with many Midwestern cities, the city started to decrease in population and was losing people to the suburbs. This prompted the city to merge with Marion County in 1970 as part of the Unigov system. This allowed for Indianapolis to jump up in population and allowed for it to continue growing. This decision also bought Indianapolis some time to start improving its downtown by building a new convention center, stadium and other facilities to make the city more attractive. These efforts were rewarded by bringing the Indianapolis Colts, NCAA Headquarters, and Super Bowl XLVI to town. Of course, the city’s most famous attraction is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 race, giving the city the nickname, “Racing Capital of the World.”
By 1976, the interstate system in Indianapolis was effectively completed with seven interstate legs coming out of the city, two for I-65, I-70 and I-74 and one for I-69. Future plans will create two more freeway legs with Interstate 69 south and U.S. 31 north of the city. In the early part of the 21st Century, the focus has been on updating the freeway network around Indianapolis by widening highways and replacing old interchanges. Indianapolis is now the second largest city in population in the Midwest and the Indianapolis metropolitan area is the fastest growing in the state, now accounting for nearly one third of the state’s population. What was once called Naptown, in a derogatory sense, has since become the vibrant center for the Central Indiana region, bringing people from all over the country into one of the fastest growing Midwest metros. More than ever, Indianapolis lives up to its title as the Crossroads of America.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. and state highways that ran through the city were rerouted along Interstate 465 in a way to get rid of INDOT responsibilities along what were basically Indianapolis city streets. This has created a unique situation where several highways are overlapped along the I-465 beltway, but not acknowledged except for at their ends.