INDOT right-of-way markers are here, there, and everywhere

Looking for a fun game to play next time you’re bored in the car? I sure was when I headed to South Carolina a couple months ago before I knew how common state right-of-way markers are. In Indiana, the monuments normally demarcate the boundaries of roads owned and operated by the department of transportation, and they’re everywhere. Sometimes, they pop up in unexpected places.

State right-of-way markers seen near the site of Elizabethtown in northern Delaware County. Photo taken February 18, 2023.

This post hurts a little to publish. I pride myself on being observant, but I’ll grudgingly admit that I’ve spent the last thirty-two years being stupendously ignorant of how common state right-of-way markers are. I’d wondered about two I found near the site of Elizabethtown in the northernmost reaches of Delaware County for years since, as far as I knew, the road they sat on was never a state highway. The concrete posts rise about eighteen inches from the ground and are inscribed with the letters I N D and R/W. Until recently, they were the only two I think I’d ever seen.

A R/W marker in front of Yorktown Elementary School. Photo taken February 18, 2023.

That changed a couple of weeks ago when I glanced randomly at the lawn of Yorktown Elementary School on my way home from work. I fixed my eyes on a little gray stump that I’d never seen before, despite attending school there for three years and driving past the building 5,000 times. It was another R/W marker! I saw another on the other side of the street as I made my way home. Then another. Then another. By the time I’d driven a mile and a half down State Road 32 to my turn on Nebo Road, I’d spied seventeen! They stuck out once I knew where to look.

The next day, I counted twenty-four in the same stretch of State Road 32 before I ran out of memory and the spinning beach ball in my brain fired up, forcing the file to close. It made for a fun game while it lasted, and identifying South Carolina’s would have been a great way to pass the time.

I was back on the hunt the next day after I restarted my brain overnight. I live in Muncie and work in Anderson, and as a person who hates to drive the same way twice, my trips to work often take me on different alignments of State Roads 9, 32, 67, 128, and 232. All of them featured the monuments. The oldest spell out I N D, but newer ones just say R/W in the top, left, corner. I figured that probably all state highways have them. 

A pair of R/W markers in Chesterfield. Photo taken February 20, 2023.

Nevertheless, I kept wondering why I kept seeing them pop up on roads I was positive were never old state highways. Around Muncie, I saw them at Morrison near the Jackson Street roundabout and Nebo just past American Chevrolet. That pair near Elizabethtown really bugged me. I’d eat my hat if County Road 364 ever was one!

Eventually, I found an article which asserted that right-of-way monuments also marked state boundaries on any street purchased with state funds1. Muncie historian and newspaperman Bill Spurgeon postulated that Eighth Street in Muncie, which parallels State Road 32, was rebuilt with state highway funds when the highway was reconstructed in the 1950s2.

Many decommissioned alignments of state highways, such as this stretch of old State Road 67 near Daleville, still feature R/W markers. Photo taken February 18, 2023.

The research I’ve done finds that he was partially correct: in addition to state roads and interstates, right-of-way markers were installed in three other circumstances. The first two involve situations where the state buys the area surrounding a regular city- or county-owned road to reconstruct a portion of it. In those cases, the Indiana Department of Transportation will place a marker even if it plans to turn the road over to the local authorities once the work is complete. That explains the markers near Elizabethtown, along parts of Nebo and Morrison, and on Eighth Street. The third reason Indiana marks state right-of-way is when the thoroughfare is a County-Federal aid route3.

INDOT’s R/W monuments visually delineate the state’s right-of-way for operations purposes. Basically, they tell contractors or state employees where they need to mow or where they can park maintenance equipment and heavy machinery. They’re not survey markers, and they don’t mark property lines4, but the government has specific requirements for where each monument is placed nevertheless.

This pair of R/W markers demarcates where the state’s right-of-way jogs just southeast of the West Side Church of Christ on State Road 32.

If it’s been installed correctly, the back face of each marker sits on the right-of-way line. They’re generally a thousand feet apart, but they also sit closer together at each corner of irregularly-shaped right-of-ways or where they jog. There are specific guidelines to where the markers are installed on curves, and where they lie adjacent to the next marker, assuming visibility from an eye level of 60” at the intermediate monument.

Imagery courtesy the Delaware County Assessor’s GIS department and Schneider Corporation.

I’ve noticed some occasions where markers are set nearby, perpendicular to the road, in cases where the right-of way doesn’t appear to jog. Georgia places a pair of markers to mark the boundary of the road itself along with its adjacent easement5, but I haven’t found anything official to corroborate that Indiana follows those guidelines. It seems like INDOT does, though, according to some quick research: one two-marker location sits on the south side of Highway 32 about a third of a mile west of Nebo Road. In Delaware County’s Beacon GIS viewer, state right-of-way, shown here as the intersection of the blue, yellow, and red lines, lines up perfectly with the second marker, the one furthest from the road.

This marker, on State Road 32 in Chesterfield, has been damaged.

INDOT mandates that each monument feature a “smooth, workmanlike finish” and be plainly marked near the bottom with the trademark or initials of their manufacturer along with a date. The posts are securely held in place by at least four spacers of an approved design and get rigorous tests for strength6, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it based on how many have been destroyed by cars.

A third R/W marker near Elizabethtown, on the west side of County Road 364-North. Photo taken February 18, 2023.

Elizabethtown’s pair of markers are still in good shape. A recent drive to the area revealed a third one I’d never noticed just south of the Elizabethtown Bridge, which I’ve pictured above. Actually, a 1994 survey of the area surrounding County Roads 1270-North and 364-West shows three more R/W monuments in the immediate area that I haven’t been able to locate7.

A 1994 survey of the Elizabethtown area indicates five total R/W markers in the area, aside from the sixth I found south of the bridge.

Those markers are mysterious, but I had two thoughts as to what led the state to establish right-of-way so far out in the middle of nowhere: in 1934, Elizabethtown Road was widened from the Lick Creek Bridge to Eaton-Wheeling Pike as part of a CWA road improvement project that also improved Isanogel Road in Mt. Pleasant Township, DeHaven Road near Albany, and Butterfield Road in Niles Township8. None of those other roads feature any R/W markers, which scuttled my theory. 

The old Elizabethtown Bridge, as seen in this 1986 SHAARD image.

Instead, I’m nearly positive that Elizabethtown’s markers date to 1993, when the area’s Pratt truss bridge was replaced with $516,000 of federal funds administered by INDOT9. The new bridge was built at a higher grade than its predecessor, so the surrounding road was reconstructed to conform to its height. INDOT almost assuredly paid for the grade improvement, and took ownership during construction.

Although the markers near Elizabethtown feature their older I N D insignia, I have no idea when INDOT changed to the present design that reads R/W. The monuments along State Road 32 between Muncie and Yorktown with the newer design were laid between 2006 and 2012 when the highway was widened10, but perhaps someone knows the true answer in the comments. This mystery has been bugging me for years!

R/W markers around and behind the Elizabethtown historic plaque, as seen on March 30, 2020.

Even if I don’t know when the markers were placed at Elizabethtown, I’m glad to finally clear up my misconception that they were only installed along official state highways or that they’d been moved to that intersection from somewhere else. I may be late to the party, but it’s been a lot of fun to see how common these monuments are. They’re everywhere! If you’ve never noticed one, keep an eye out for them next time you’re out on a drive- I promise that you’ll be shocked at how many hide in plain sight on and off state highways. In many cases, they’ve been there for decades.

Sources Cited
1 Spurgeon, B. (1993, November 30). Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
2 (See footnote 1).
3 Indiana Department of Transportation Standard Specifications (2013). The State of Indiana. Web. Retrieved February 19, 2023.
4 Surveying Along State Roads (2020, January 24). DLZ. Web. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
5 xray_foxtrot (2010, August 18). Re: Right of Way marker? [Discussion Post]. Geocaching. Web. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
6 Indiana Department of Transportation Standard Specifications (2020). The State of Indiana. Web. Retrieved February 19, 2023.
7 Ashton, H. (1994, November 28). Dividing Muriel Worth Estate. Map.
8 Road Projects Are Near Completion (1934, January 27). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
9 Roysdon, K. (1992, April 27). Finance woes could hamper bridge repair. The Muncie Evening Press. pp. 1-3.
10 Gibson, R. (2012, January 5) Yorktown resident wins $91,000 in damages. The Muncie Star Press. p. 25.

8 thoughts on “INDOT right-of-way markers are here, there, and everywhere

  1. I dislike it that modern ROW markers no longer say IND.

    I did not know that these markers are dated! I’ve never noticed a date on one before.

    The most interesting ROW marker I ever found was in Illinois. I was exploring US 40/National Road. There was a place where an old alignment ended at a wooded area. In that woods, if the road had ever gone through there you could sort of tell because there were fewer trees on that path. I went in and in the middle of that woods found a ROW marker!
    Abandoned National Road

    The first ROW marker I ever saw no longer exists, It was on US 31 on the south side of South Bend, at about Johnson Road. They rebuilt 31 as a limited-access highway here some time ago.
    ROW marker

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow! The entire impetus of this post came from the questions I asked you when you found the ROW marker on Old 67 near Worthington. The Illinois marker is stunning. I’d be equally shocked to come across it! The treeline made a big difference, and that’s some advanced road-sleuthery.

      I also dislike that the newer markers don’t say I N D, but I think we’d have to dig some markers up, or find one on its deathbed, to see the date or the maker’s insignia.

      I haven’t been able to find an INDOT design document, but I’m hoping I come across one that would tell us the dates for sure. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate me digging up those monuments near Elizabethtown, but it’s been a good consolation prize to know more about their history and why they’re placed where they’re placed.


      1. An ROW marker is ripped out of the ground and lying on its side near my home. It’s damaged, but it’s possible that the date and manufacturer mark are visible. I’ll look next time I go by.


    1. What a change! I’m sure that’s the way I came into South Bend to take courthouse photos and paid that intersection no attention. As you know (and have taught me), that’s why contemporary documentation is crucially important. The area is completely different now.


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