The Hoosierist: What Lies Beneath

Q:A friend from out west couldn’t get over how many Indiana houses have basements. Are they a rarity around the country?A:

Basements are as common as potholes in Indiana, but many parts of the country can’t have them. In much of the South, the water table is so high that if you tried to dig one, you’d wind up with a small lake. In the West, the soil can expand and contract so dramatically that basement walls would quickly crack. And in other locales, such as Texas, bedrock sits close to the surface and you’d need dynamite to blast out that subterranean rec area of your dreams. But in Indiana (and much of the Midwest), stable soil conditions make it easy to dig one. Because foundations in areas with cold winters must be dug below the frost line, builders have to bore down at least a couple of feet anyway. Since they’ve already rented a backhoe, why not keep going and put in a tornado bunker/laundry room/radon gas repository?

Q: What are the plans for the monorail track downtown?

A: The People Mover, an elevated train system connecting downtown’s hospitals, seemed pretty cool when it debuted in 2003. The $40 million project required the construction of a raised track, which has become a white elephant since the trains were shut down in 2019 and replaced with a cheaper shuttle bus system. If some novel reuse is in the works, IU Health has kept mum. In a statement, the hospital system said it “remains in discussions with the city, neighborhoods, and private groups over the future of the People Mover track lines.” One option that’s probably not on the table is tearing it down. While the trains are gone, the tracks are still laden with fiber optic lines, and they carry pneumatic tubes that transport lab samples between the hospitals. Doctors must now suffer the indignity of bus travel, but your skin tag biopsy will continue to travel in uplifted style.

Q: Is it true that the Jefferson Proving Ground, where the Army tested artillery for decades, is now a park?

A: Yes, about 50,000 acres of the old Jefferson Proving Ground have been turned into the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, which opened to the public in 2000. Visitors can hike in a wilderness 10 times larger than Eagle Creek Park, and enjoy wildlife that includes 200 species of birds. But there’s a catch. Before its conversion into a park, this area was used to test almost every form of ordinance the Army developed, from gigantic artillery shells to anti-tank slugs made of depleted uranium. All Big Oaks visitors must sign an “acknowledgment of danger agreement,” which basically means you won’t sue if you get a leg blown off by an old mortar round.

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