Over the last century, Michigan's roads have gone from mud to macadam and beyond. Along the way, the state had to answer tough questions about:
As a result, our state became a transportation pioneer. Motorists around the world have benefited from ideas first tried in Michigan.
Early 20th century
In the early 20th century, Michigan's economy changed from farms to industry. Citizens and the new auto industry demanded better roads. The state responded by building the first mile of concrete pavement in the U.S. Paving one mile of Woodward Avenue (M-1) took less than three months and cost more than $13,500.
During the following decade, the state worked to improve road safety. Michigan became the first state to paint center lines between lanes of opposing traffic-one of the most important safety devices in the history of auto transportation. The new "crow's nest" allowed a police officer to direct traffic at intersections.
The growing number of roads inspired an effort to help motorists find their way. Colored bands were placed on telephone poles to mark important travel routes, like the Chicago Trail or the Central Michigan Pike. This was the forerunner to the national system of highway numbers and signs.
Crow's nest traffic control
The 1920s and new technology
In the 1920s, synchronized traffic signals replaced the "crow's nest." The nation's first snow plow started clearing Michigan roads. This plow rode on sled runners and had wooden wings to push the snow from the road. It was simple, but it answered citizen's demand for year-round travel.
1930s and 40s: Tourism and war spur growth
In the years before the U.S. entered World War II, state roads carried more tourists. To serve them, the state built a welcome center at New Buffalo on old US-12. It was the first permanent travel information center in the country.
More traffic required more and better signs. New "Do Not Pass" and "Pass With Care" signs helped make roads safer.
During WWII, roads became critical for moving bombs and workers. The nation's first four-lane divided highway helped move 42,000 workers to the bomber factory in Ypsilanti.
First 4-lane divided highway
The 1950s: a decade of thinking big
The fifties were a decade of big improvements. The very biggest (in every way) was an engineering wonder, the Mackinac Bridge. "The Mighty Mac" linked the state's two peninsulas. Today it carries nearly five million motorists per year.
On the safety front, Michigan pioneered a new kind of five-lane highway, with left-turn lanes at the center. These reduced rear-end collisions and kept traffic moving freely.
The 1960s and 70s
The booming economy spurred road building during the 1960s. Michigan became the first state to complete a border-to-border interstate. This freeway, I-94, ran 205 miles from Detroit to New Buffalo. Later, it would be extended northeast to Port Huron; this would link an international border directly to the state's highway system.
With all this traveling came congestion. Michigan became the first state to study traffic using TV monitors. This study, along M-10, was the forerunner of today's Intelligent Transportation Systems.
In the decades since then, MDOT has found new ways to protect our environment and save money. Old highways can be recycled by reusing the building materials. MDOT built carpool lots and developed a ride sharing program.
Today, MDOT continues to work for better, safer travel. We work with private companies and public agencies on today's challenges:
balancing growth with protecting the environment,
making travel safer,
developing smoother pavements that will last longer,
reducing motorist inconvenience.