Monday, October 27, 2008

Roads to Wright-Patterson : Postwar Planning before I-675

Military planning for road improvements continued in the early postwar period. The focus was to smooth traffic flow on the Route 4 expressway.

The following pix is a great illustration of the problem, looking west and showing a bottleneck at Huffman Dam. One can see the line of cars queuing up for a right turn to the Huffman Dam road and ultimately Valley Street. By the light in the pix one can tell this is the afternoon, so one is seeing a reverse commute situation, with very light traffic outbound from Dayton.

The military planners proposed a set of interchanges on Route 4 to correct bottlenecks, including one for an interbase road connecting Wright & Patterson Fields. These improvements would have transformed Route 4 into a true limited access expressway.

The same planning effort also produced this graphic showing commuter numbers, locations, distances and travel times for base personnel.

The graphic was in support of increased housing since Dayton had overcrowding and a severe housing shortage in the late 1940s. This forced base personnel to travel long distances to look for a place to live. The numbers can also be used to demonstrate that Dayton and close-in suburban areas (Northridge and Overlook) remained a big source of commuters to the base; 48% commuting in from Dayton city.

Around the same time a consultant was doing an arterial highway study for Dayton, an extension and expansion of wartime planning for a cross-town expressway for US 25 (more on that later). I’m not sure if it was the city, county, or predecessor to ODOT that commissioned the study, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse at commuting at the very dawn of postwar suburbia.

The study recognized Wright-Patterson as a traffic planning issue, and provided this map to show where in Dayton Wright-Patterson personnel lived. I’ve color coded the map to show the census tracts with the highest concentration of W-P personnel…

…which seems to have been in Grafton Hill, Five Oaks, the northern part of Dayton View, and the neighborhoods between downtown and the Great Miami.

Lesser concentrations are also colored, but W-P personnel lived all over town.

The surprise here is the large concentration northwest of downtown along Salem and Main streets, perhaps a leftover from the era of nearby McCook Field. This neighborhood was shown in a 1930s housing study as an area of white-collar workers, presumably including officers, engineers and scientists working originally at McCook and later Wright Field.

It is sort of ironic considering that this area, today, would be unthinkable for base personnel, as it’s turning into a new black ghetto.

The center -city concentration just west of downtown was probably overcrowded, representing a future market for suburban housing. This area was razed in the early 1960s via urban renewal.

Since fully 48% of base personnel lived in Dayton there would be a lot of traffic to the base. as proven by this traffic volume map. The volume diagrams unfortunately end at the Greene County line, but one can infer that the volumes would continue eastward to the base and Fairborn.

The study put Wright-Patterson in context with other industrial and commercial areas and employers as a major outlying employment center (the other was the Frigidaire plant in Moraine), showing the three cantonment areas.

The result of the study was a proposed extension of the Route 4 expressway into Dayton as a limited access highway parallel to the northern fringe of the Mad River bottoms. The extension would cross the Mad River and connect with the wartime Route 4 expressway at Huffman Dam. This would have provided commuter access to the base from central, north, and northwest Dayton, the major concentrations of base personnel living in the city.

Taken together with the proposed military interchanges between Huffman Dam and Fairborn this would have been Dayton’s longest limited access expressway when complete.

A limited access highway was eventually built as planned between Dayton and Huffman Dam, connecting to the wartime Route 4 expressway. But, as we know, no interchanges were built between Huffman Dam and Fairborn on the old Route 4, (renumbered as OH 444.) Route 4 was eventually extended along the Mad River beyond Huffman Dam to I-70 as a divided highway without interchanges, part of a later regional radial highway plan.

Postwar Beltway Planning

Population was growing east of Dayton between 1932 and 1952, with this dot map showing the increase (each dot = 40 people, and areas seeing growth shaded in red). Most of this was 1940s growth…wartime and early postwar… on pre-Depression plats, as well as a cluster of wartime trailer parks. There is very little postwar subdivision activity shown here.

The 1952 Harlan Bartholomew plan sited a beltway around and through this area, incorporating the proposed and existing Route 4 Expressway. The beltway was to be an at-grade expressway, with interchanges only at important intersections.

This diagram shows how the beltway and Route 4 expressway was sited between existing subdivisions and the proposed base “Area D” (housing, hospital and education facilities), making use of the vacant Mad River corridor into the city, and providing access to the central part of Beavercreek. One can also see the start of Page Manor, a m ixed military/civilian project intended to help relieve the postwar housing shortage.

Airway Road would have been extended further to the west through Wright View, and an inner loop was sited roughly where Harshman and Woodman Drives are today. An assumption was that population would de-concentrate to suburbia from overcrowded housing in Dayton, with the beltway and highways in place to provide access.

This remains a fairly convincing proposal compared to what came after.


Anonymous said...

I just love knowing the history of our region--helps explain why things are the way they are. You do such a thorough job. I am always amazed at what you dig up.

Anonymous said...

"Dayton had overcrowding and a severe housing shortage in the late 1940s" - wow, who woulda thunk it? Dayton was kind of a Silicon Valley like employment center of its day. My parents used to tell me stories about how expensive housing was there. Planners of current boom cities in the sunbelt would do well to heed the stories of cities like Dayton. As always, fantastic work, Jeffrey.

Jefferey said...

Oh, thanks! I really had a lot of fun researching this over the years, sort of a quirky hobby. I always find new stuff, too, it seems. Didn't know what to do with it until computers and the internet.

I'll be looking at this wartime and postwar housing crisis a bit more in the future as there are still some leftovers around.