TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Terre Haute’s past, present, and future revolves around railroads, and with another new overpass project in the works, the “Crossroads of America” is continuing to build around the tracks that put it on the map.
“I’ve been here long enough to know the one over on 3rd St. when they put that in. Before that, oh, you could cook out and just have a party. It was bad,” said Terre Haute resident of 30 years, Brian Pritcher.
Many residents are used to working and living around railroad tracks. Like many other Terre Haute residents, Pritcher’s home is only a few blocks from a set of busy tracks.
“Every time I want to leave the house, a train comes by, so they don’t really bother me until I try to leave the house,” Pritcher noted.
Fortunately for the people of Terre Haute, there is another overpass project in the works.
“I think it’ll be nice. This is one of the older neighborhoods in Terre Haute, and we don’t get much good around here,” Pritcher said.
Similarly to the process of the previous overpass, citizens should expect construction, road closures, and detours throughout the project. Although there were many detours and years of disruption, the residents of Terre Haute have significantly benefitted from the overpass projects and seem to be grateful for the improvement and lessened congestion.
As the city continues to move forward with more improvement projects, residents could see the newest overpass completed within the next few years. In a city-wide survey done in 2012, the community was polled to determine which train tracks were ranked highest in causing the most congestion.
“It looked at all the crossings in the city and looked at the cost estimates, and delays, and from that, we were able to rank the crossings by importance and which ones needed fixing,” said Mark Maurer, assistant city engineer.
The top five intersections were selected from the survey to be the focus of future improvement projects. These long-term projects aim to reduce wait time for drivers, decrease carbon emissions from idle vehicles, lessen noise around tracks in selected areas, and improve general traffic flow with an emphasis on quick access for emergency vehicles.
The immediate solution to many of these high-traffic areas was to create overpasses. In December of 2018, the first years-long overpass project was completed over Margaret Ave — the community’s top-ranked area for most congested tracks.
“Right now, the overpass we’re working on next, is at 8th Ave. and 13th St. It should start to take shape in 2023, but can be expected to be wrapped up in 2025,” said Maurer.
The data from the 2012 survey was collected and used to create a study that played a large part in receiving the grant funding for the overpass projects. The study showed that when residents were asked how many times in a typical week they were stopped by a train, 48.6 percent responded 1 to 5 times a week, while 35.9 percent said they are stopped 6 to 10 times a week.
Maurer commented on the advantages the study has brought the town, “That study has been very helpful in the planning of future projects, and it was key in getting the grant of $13.52 million. When the study was sent to the Federal Railroad Association for review, the officials there gave it positive feedback.”
Maurer provided tentative closure locations and possible detour routes, noting that both 13th St. and 8th Ave. will be closed to through traffic. While the plans for the overpass also include roundabouts on either side, there are wide ranges of which streets the detours may be on, and which streets will be closed or have slowed traffic due to construction.
While the temporary headaches of construction will disrupt peoples’ daily flow, the completed overpass will bring a lot of benefits to the community. Maurer mentioned a significant aspect of this overpass is the accessibility it creates to Union Hospital.
“It will cut down on collision risks, and create a clear path to Union Hospital so ambulances or emergency vehicles won’t have to stop and wait for the trains.”
This future improvement to the city will help to create a safer and more efficient environment. The 2012 study has provided helpful insight to city officials, allowing them to work toward future projects with an informed plan that benefits the folks of Terre Haute. When looking even further into the city’s next big overpass plans, Maurer mentioned that things were still being decided.
Maurer added, “My guess would be somewhere downtown. We’ve covered the north and south, and now there’s a gap in the middle. But for now, we’re staying on a steady track for our project completion.”
Like many other midwestern cities, the train tracks that segment the town have a rich history and play a prominent role in the growth and prosperity of the area. However, many Terre Haute residents are well-acquainted with the particulars of living in a train-centric town and have learned to tolerate the tracks.
It may come as a surprise to many Terre Haute residents that the locally-used version of the term “railroaded” does not have a well-documented history. Citizens have their own definition of what it means to be “railroaded,” often using the term to describe the near-daily occurrence of being held up by trains. Although a rare record of the term’s use, Indiana historian Tim Crumrin has found anecdotally that infamous Hoosier John Dillinger often joked that he would never rob a bank in Terre Haute for a fear of being “railroaded.” Yet, according to local archives, there are not many historically recorded references to the term in local history.
Vigo County Historical Museum curator, Suzy Quick, described the relationship between the city of Terre Haute and the railroads.
“It was the development of the railroad system that enabled the growth of our community. Once the railroads were constructed, Terre Haute’s overall growth exploded. Because of our geographical location here at “the crossroads of America,” Terre Haute is and has been a sort of transportation hub for moving goods throughout the region.”
From traffic delays to vehicle care, safety procedures, and alternate routes, the community has worked with and around the tracks for decades.
“I think, for the most part, residents of Terre Haute have come to tolerate the trains and have found ways to adapt around them. Of course, they can be a challenge, and especially in today’s age of fast-paced living, folks don’t like to wait for a train to pass or have to drive out of their way to go around. There is also a lot of concern over the maintenance of the railroad crossings. Frequent repairs are necessary to avoid damage to vehicles trying to cross the tracks,” Quick added.
While the people of Terre Haute may have adjusted throughout the years and learned to live with the particulars of trains, there’s still a deep love for the railroads that is easily found among the locals. The Wabash Valley Railroad Museum, established in 1999, and still running today, works to preserve the regional history of trains and railroads. Charlie Foster, a founding member of the museum, volunteers as a tour guide alongside other train enthusiasts in the area.
Bruce Ratcliff, a fellow train lover and volunteer of 4 years commented, “that’s what this is about, continuous learning and improvement.”
Terre Haute has had a long relationship with trains, with railroad tracks being a large part of the town’s history, success, and culture. While the occasional train may come to a stop, Terre Haute only has plans to move forward.