Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Long Road to a Road: I-675 Prehistory to 1973.

I-675 is fascinating study in delays and controversy, perhaps even of hidden agendas, or maybe not so hidden. What seems a simple concept, a bypass expressway, really isn’t, as this study of the early history shows.

Pre-Interstate Beltway Plans

The first beltway concept around Dayton was an Olmstead Brothers “emerald necklace” park/parkway system, proposed in the years leading up to WWI. This plan went nowhere, as grand plans often do, but it was really a recreation/parks plan, not a traffic plan.

The next attempt at a beltway plan came out of WWII-era military planning. Wartime action transformed cityscapes all over the US, and Dayton was not an exception. Early regional highway planning came out of the need to move people and materiel around the metro area. One of the proposals was a partial beltway between the city and Wright & Patterson Fields, connecting the traffic circle on North Dixie Drive with Patterson Road at Greenmont Village/Oak Park mutual homes.

(the fat gray line on the to enlarge)

This partial beltway would have passed through areas experiencing war worker housing growth, as well as connecting regional highways (US 25 & US40) with the base.

In the immediate postwar era Harlan Bartholomew was retained to develop a comprehensive plan for the Dayton region. This planning effort remains the best attempt at planning for the region, and is an excellent source of documentation of Dayton as it entered the postwar boom.

Bartholomew recommended a beltway to circle the city, swinging well out into Greene County, and also circling through western Montgomery County. This highway would have been an at-grade expressway, with grade separation interchanges at important cross-roads. Perhaps a bit like Route 4 north of Huffman Dam.

This plan was never executed. Instead, during the 1950s, a scaled-down beltway using improved streets and new connectors was proposed and partially executed.
Bartholomew recommended just one true expressway, US 25, as a pre-interstate crosstown highway north-south through the city. 1940s and 1950s expressway planning continued along these lines, emphasizing crosstown and radial highways.

Apparently employment and traffic patterns drove this thinking. These excerpts from news articles on highway planning show a concentration of large employment centers in the core city, with only a few outlying job centers.

Traffic patterns also had a strong hub & spoke system, with intense congestion in the inner parts of the metro area (inside the circle, within which the traffic volume is scaled down or the map would be black), though one could see the start of a trafficky grid of suburban busy streets.

The response was to develop a hub & spoke expressway system, a mix of radial and cross-town routes serving all directions out of the city. One was the US-25 Expressway, I-75. Note that there is no thought of a limited access beltway in this planning, as the idea was to get suburbanites to job centers in the core city.

Around this time Montgomery and Greene County (late 1950s) formed the RTC, or Regional Transportation Committee, which was probably the first attempt at doing regional planning. This body was to coordinate highway planning.

The Interstate Era

The interstate system was established in 1956. A beltway around Dayton was authorized in 1957. And there things sat until 1959, when a consultant was contracted to come up with an alignment, kicking off a six year controversy over route location.


The consultant investigated multiple routes around the city, and settled on an eastern alignment for various reasons (proposed future land use was not one of them).

The predecessor of the Federal DOT, Bureau of Public Roads approved further engineering, but caveated the approval that the local military installation, Wright-Patterson AFB, had not signed off on the route, and needed to.

One can imagine this was key given that the interstate system, especially in its early days, was pitched in-part as a defense highway network, for moving around troops and military materiel, and for civilian evacuations.


ODOT announces plans for the bypass, projected completion in 1965, and preliminary engineering recommended the alignment pass between Wright & Patterson Fields.

The consultants map of the various alignments, the first recommendation of 1960 (in red) and the later recommendation of 1961 running between the bases (red dashes, notional, based on text descriptions). Note that the consultant used the 1959 expressway plan as his base map


The year of controversy. Objections are raised (by local officials) to the proposed alignment, so the RTC came up with the close-in proposal. This would have been well within the county line, cutting through east Dayton, but still retaining the consultants alignment on the southern leg

Why such an alignment? Note this thoroughfare plan from the 1960s, still showing the radial and cross-town expressways

…next, compare it with the close-in alignment. It seems the RTC realigned the bypass to match the Southeast Expressway, permitting the use of Federal highway trust fund money to fund a regional arterial expressway, or a large part of one.

Apparently the RTC had a pretty good cost-benefit analyses because ODOT agreed to the realignment. The Bureau of Public Roads would not, disapproving the scheme as a “parallel expressway”, not a true interstate bypass or belt route.

Also in 1962, the new campus of what was to become Wright-State was selected, near Wright-Patterson AFB. After the rejection of the close-in route an ad-hoc study group was formed of university, base, and RTC staff to come up with a new recommended alignment.

1963 & 1964

The study took up most of 1963, and its first recommendation was for an immediate need for a limited access highway between the base and Indian Ripple. This represents a change in high-priority limited access highway projects, as a 1962 RTC highway plan had recommended expressways west of the city and the east side leg of the Southeast Expressway as highest priority.

This report also recommended that the bypass swing around Fairborn and interchange with I-70 northeast of Fairborn.

It took all of 1964 for ODOT and the Feds (Bureau of Public Roads) to review, reject, and then reconsider the proposed alignment


In January the Feds finally approved the “far east” alignment. News reports that the state was on the hook to pay 50% of the cost for the additional mileage for the swing around Fairborn, as the Feds would not pay this full cost.

At the end of 1965 the bypass was finally included in the RTC’s transportation plan, with recommended phasing. What’s interesting is the first phases was an extended version of the “immediate need” of 1963, to Wilmington Pike. The Southeast Expressway was dropped from the plan.

What’s interesting here is that the expressway was sited, in some cases, to benefit real estate speculation, based on recommendations coming from local highway officials. A good example is the alignment along Colonel Glenn, which was pulled back from the highway to permit a strip of land available for development.


Things dragged after Federal approval in 1965.

In 1966 and 1967 engineering and acquisition began, including final alignment, decided via a series of hearings. It’s unclear when actual engineering began, but ODOT didn’t follow the RTC’s 1965 phasing. Instead it designed and bid the Fairborn stretch first,, (but including a small project for Loop Road in Centerville)

The story of I-675 after 1973 is another post, as it is a deliciously bitter political battle well-documented in the media of that era.

Changing Priorities and What-Ifs.

The early politics of I-675 is unclear, but what is clear is that there was a shift in priority from cross-town and radial highways feeding into the core city in favor of I-675. Only two radials were built, OH 4 and US 35, (US 35 starting in the 1950s, pre-dating I-675).

Western Montgomery County dropped off the priority list for expressways until the quasi-limited access US 35/Trotwood Connector was built in 1990s, mostly at-grade starting at Abbey Avenue. Mapping out the dropped projects it's pretty clear there was an imbalance in capital investment:

After the apparent aborted attempt to game the alignment to fund the Southeast Expressway, efforts and money went to I-675, which was never considered as a true bypass by the locals. One one can see how the freeway was conceived, at first, as a way to get a radial highway funded, then as a suburban connector for Greene County, perhaps even as a development generator for real estate near interchanges (which might account for the far-east alignment around Fairborn).

That alignment choices may have had more to do with real estate and suburban development than transportation might have accounted for the repeated rejections by the Bureau of Public Roads, which finally caved in after the state was willing to pony-up 50% of the cost of the northern alignment.

Just for fun, two what-if alignments; a true outer belt, looping well beyond Beavercreek, and a version of the 1961 alignment cutting between the two halves of the base and reaching I-75 at Stop-Eight. This would have permitted a viable bypass for through I-75 traffic, around the downtown/close-in bottleneck on I-75.

Next, a look at the controversial 1970s history of I-675


Anonymous said...

Great work. That "Southeast Expressway" is like science fiction about an alternate reality - a fascinating concept and shows just how clueless freeway planners were back in the 50s. On a map or on Google's satellite images, you can clearly see that "Chuck Whelan Blvd." is pointed in parallel with that alignment and the S.E. Expressway was going to be an expressway that would have slashed through the highest quality Dayton neighborhoods (Belmont, Patterson Park) as well as Kettering. Basically, Belmont would have been "East-Daytonized", chopped up into disconnected bits. In fact, your diagrams make it look like places like Belmont High would have been taken out. Looks like that part of Dayton dodged a very slow moving "bullet", er, bulldozer.

Billy said...

I have a light arguemar going with some friends. I remember when I-675 went from I-70 and ended at North Fairfield. This was 1975. Comment ?

Moonraker said...

Can't say where it ends, but can vouch that I-675 at the
overpass of SR 444 was in place by late 70s, but did not extend as far as Rt. 35 at that time.