U.S. Highway 41 now designated ‘Interstate 41’
If you haven’t paid particular attention, U.S. Highway 41 in Wisconsin is now Interstate 41 (I-41).
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) made the designation this past year and is erecting signs displaying I-41 all along the recently-designated route. That follows official approval by the governor.
I-41 runs between the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, around the south and west sides of Milwaukee and follows Highway 41’s present route skirting Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Appleton to Green Bay. It will end where I-43 intersects with it on Green Bay’s north side.
I-41 is Wisconsin’s fifth interstate highway, if you don’t count the I-894 spur in Milwaukee.
I-43 begins at Beloit, goes through Milwaukee and follows a route near Lake Michigan to Green Bay.
I-39 runs from the state line at Beloit to Wausau. I-90 enters Wisconsin at Beloit, goes past Madison to near Tomah, and then heads west to La Crosse and beyond. And I-94 enters Wisconsin south of Kenosha, travels to and around Milwaukee’s south and west sides before heading toward Madison. From there, it goes to Eau Claire and finally to Hudson on the way to the Twin Cities and west.
Some of the interstate highways share routes. For example, where I-90 enters Wisconsin at Beloit, it’s also I-39. Traveling north, when the road gets to Madison’s east side, I-94 joins the other two and the road becomes I-39, I-90 and I-94 until I-39 splits off south of Portage.
Does it make a difference if a highway carries an interstate designation? Those who deal in such matters say it promotes economic growth and lets drivers know the roadway conforms to high design standards. It also gets national recognition – another dark blue line on the Wisconsin road map in the road atlas.
I’m among the thousands who’ve driven on every stretch of the interstate system in Wisconsin. It certainly helps people get from here to there more quickly, but often is tedious and boring. On our road trips, we often enjoy using some two-lane highways even though it slows us down. It’s fun to pass through small towns once in a while. But we don’t stop to absorb the local flavors often enough.
Before the state of Wisconsin designated highway 51 as I-39 in the 1990s, I happened to be in a barber shop, waiting my turn. The man in the chair ahead of me was the late Donald Cronkrite, who headed the DOT office in Wisconsin Rapids. I knew him from covering highway issues for my radio station, WIZD.
I asked him off-handedly when the DOT would name Highway 51 as I-39. His answer startled me – he said it would be announced relatively soon. I had a scoop! I returned to the station and reported the new designation was about to happen.
Sometimes, I find it difficult to fall asleep. On the nights when I don’t get up to read or work Sudoku puzzles, I think of such things as what I might write about in an upcoming column.
One night I started reflecting on the highways in Portage County. (Strange things happen during the night.) We have two federal highways passing through (US 10 and US 51/I-39) plus several with state-designated numbers.
There are highways 22, 34, 49, 54, 66, 73 and 161. The rest are county and town roads, in addition to city and village streets.
I thought about the fact that in Wisconsin, county trunk roads carry designations using letters. In many other states, such lower-tier highways have numerical designations, mostly with three and four numbers to distinguish them from the more major one and two-number thoroughfares.
I began to try to pinpoint the route for each Portage County trunk road, starting with “A.” I think I did pretty well – where I came up short is with some of the offshoot highways using double letters. Some are tributaries, while others are separate.
In studying the county highway map, I found that Portage County has utilized the full alphabet in naming its roadways – except for one letter. There is no county trunk “L.” The county didn’t have a County Highway R until a few years ago when it put that designation on Brilowski Road.
There doesn’t seem to be any particular plan for naming county highways. For example, County Highway A runs along the entire east side of the county. County Highway J appears to be the longest county road, running from the Marathon to the Waushara County lines. County Highway B runs from downtown Plover through Amherst, and County Highway C goes from the west side of Stevens Point to the Portage-Wood County line. County Highway D runs mostly east-west in the southern part of the county, and so on.
County Highway HH is one of the busiest county trunks, running from its intersection with County Highway J, past Crossroads Commons, through Whiting, around Stevens Point’s west side to the tank farm east of Junction City.
Some folks are still trying to figure out a few of the more recent changes, prompted by the Highway 10 bypass opening. What used to be Highway 10 from Stevens Point west is now County Highway HH. County Trunk P – the highway from Stevens Point to its intersection with Highway 34 north of Wisconsin Rapids for so long – is now Highway 66.
So it pretty much traverses all of Portage County – from Highway 34 on the west, through Stevens Point to its intersection with Highway 49 east of Rosholt. County Highway DB (Du Bay) is the only county highway using double non-identical letters.
A couple of noteworthy meeting points include “HOG” corner, north of Junction City, where Highways “H,” “O” and “G” come together. The other is the intersection of Highways “DD” and “T” near the Portage-Waupaca County line.
Yes, you can get there from here, if you know your highway designations and where they lead. It’s especially useful when someone asks you, “How do I get to …”