Motorists in Detroit, Michigan may on occasion find themselves traveling on Grand River Avenue, a magnificent boulevard that cuts through the city like the spoke on a wheel. What they may not know is that Grand River was once part of US Highway 16, a transcontinental highway that ran from Detroit all the way across Michigan, and eventually to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

US Highway 16 was among the original routes included in the Joint Board on Interstate Highways’ numbering plan of 1925, and officially commissioned in 1926 by the American Association of State Highway Officials (now AASHTO). In Michigan, it took over the route of state highway M-16, already known as Grand River Avenue throughout the state. The number assigned to the route was scheduled to be US 18, but common sense prevailed and the highway was instead given the US 16 designation.

From Detroit, the new route continued through Lansing and Grand Rapids, coming to an end at Grand Haven on the shore of Lake Michigan. There were only minor changes to the route until 1940, when US 16 was routed from Grand Haven onto a new state highway, causing it to turn northwesterly and terminate at Muskegon. There, motorists were ferried across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, where they could rejoin US 16 as it now continued across the country. It was one of only three US highways in which a ferry was part of the route (US Highway 9 and US Highway 10 were the others).

From Milwaukee, US 16 ran north and west through the prairies. Along the way travelers could expect to pass through La Crosse, Wisconsin, heading to South Dakota and Sioux Falls or Rapid City. While in South Dakota, they could stop at a number of attractions: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Jewel Cave National Monument, or the Crazy Horse Memorial created by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.

From the Black Hills of Dakota, US 16 continued on to Wyoming, where it reached its western terminus at the entrance to Yellowstone, ending at a junction with US Highway 89, a major north-south route running between the Canadian border and Arizona.

In later years US 16 met the same fate as many other US highways. The state of Michigan had nearly finished construction of a freeway to replace the aging highway when plans for the new Interstate system of highways were announced. Most of this new freeway was complete by 1961, and the US 16 designation was moved onto it just in time for the entire freeway to be absorbed into the Interstate system. The following year, all of US 16 in Michigan was re-designated Interstate 96, and AASHTO removed the old 16 signs throughout the state.

Over the next thirty years, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Wyoming followed suit as another Interstate highway, Interstate 90, gradually replaced the route in those states. Today, only the portion of US 16 between Rapid City and Yellowstone National Park remains in existence, less than half the route’s original length.


SOURCES

Bessert, Christopher, "Historic U.S. 16", Michigan Highways. 2003. <http://www.michiganhighways.org/listings/HistoricUS-016.html> (May 2004).
Field, Andy and Nitzman, Alex, "Historic U.S. 16", Wyoming Highways at AARoads. 2002. <www.aaroads.com/wyoming/us-016.html> (May 2004).
Geelhart, Chris, "U.S. Highway System", The Unofficial South Dakota Highways Page. 2003. <http://www.dm.net/~chris-g/sd1-30.html> (May 2004).

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