Traffic on right tracks

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

If you think downtown traffic is hopelessly snarled now, you should have seen it in the good old days.

There were no synchronized traffic lights to keep cars moving; no one-way streets to speed things along. Booming department stores were everywhere, not having yet been squeezed out by shopping malls. And there were plenty of shoppers who came to Wolf & Dessauer's or the Grand Leader by car or by trolley.

There were also the trains of the Nickel Plate Railroad - 32 of them every day. They passed through town on a regular basis, bottling up downtown traffic for miles as they chugged north of town.

Today, the old Nickel Plate tracks are part of the Norfolk and Western system. But they no longer cause much of a traffic problem. Here's how it happened:

For decades, Fort Wayne's north side was ignored by developers, in part because getting there depended on avoiding the Nickel Plate trains. By 1923, the board of works suggested the tracks be elevated, as they had been about 10 years earlier on the south side of downtown. But nothing happened for 24 years.

Finally, in 1947, Mayor Harry Baals signed an agreement with the Nickel Plate people to elevate the tracks at seven crossings. Bonds were issued in 1953 and work began Dec. 15 of that year. The city and county each paid 40 percent of the $9 million cost and the railroad picked up the remaining 20 percent.

As work progressed, traffic was mangled even further. It would have been much worse than that, but temporary tracks were laid to keep most of the rail traffic moving. Finally, on Oct. 4, 1955, the two-mile elevation was dedicated. The elevation ffectively closed sections of downtown streets, but the result was considered worth it.

As traffic today passes under the tracks, motorists hurrying to get home in time for a hot dinner should be thankful they were not born just a few decades earlier.

There was one unfortunate aspect of the elevation, however. The two-mile-long project obliterated most of the remaining traces downtown of the old Wabash and Erie Canal. The Nickel Plate had been built in 1882 on the old canal route.

The elevation also forced the closing of the fine old Nickel Plate depot, between Calhoun and Clinton near Superior Street. It was torn down soon after.

--June 2, 1982

unction(w,d,s,l,i){w[l]=w[l]||[];w[l].push({'gtm.start': new Date().getTime(),event:'gtm.js'});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], j=d.createElement(s),dl=l!='dataLayer'?'&l='+l:'';j.async=true;j.src= ''+i+dl;f.parentNode.insertBefore(j,f); })(window,document,'script','dataLayer','GTM-KVWHXLX'); Contact Us |