History of Interstate 94 in Michigan

In 1930, a highway called the Detroit-Chicago Superhighway was first proposed. The first leg of this to be traced was a nearly 50-mile stretch between Ann Arbor and Detroit. However, the plans were not immediately converted into a concrete construction of the road, in 1939 the plans were put on the table again because of the rapid industrialization in the Detroit region. On October 9, 1939, the Blue Water Bridge on the Canadian border opened to traffic.

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In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, a large bomber factory was built at Willow Run near Ypsilanti. On October 1, 1941, construction began on a network of high-quality roads to access this factory, the Willow Run Expressway System. This also included a double-lane road from Detroit to Willow Run. Planning also began on the Detroit Industrial Expressway between Detroit and Romulus, which connected with the road to Willow Run under construction. On June 17, 1942, the United States Department of War approved the construction of the Detroit Industrial Expressway, incorporated into the Defense Highway Act of 1941.

Construction history

The interchange with the M-39 in Detroit.

Detroit Region

Willow Run Expressway

After construction of the Willow Run Expressway began, the first 2 kilometers were opened to traffic at Belleville on July 1, 1942. On August 17, 1942, a second, longer 10-kilometer section opened along Ypsilanti, between the Willow Run Factory and Michigan Avenue. By September 22, 1942, the entire Willow Run Expressway System around the plant was commissioned, including several interchanges, including two 3-level stack interchanges, which were not part of the later I-94.

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The Willow Run Expressway did not yet have grade-separated intersections everywhere, it had the principle of a limited-access highway. Later, this section between Ypsilanti and Romulus was upgraded to Interstate Highway design requirements and all intersections were also made grade-separated. In June 1958 the last traffic lights had disappeared and in February 1965 the last level crossing had also disappeared.

Detroit Industrial Expressway

On November 23, 1942, the first section of the Detroit Industrial Expressway was opened from Hannan Road in Romulus to Middle Belt Road, a six-mile stretch that runs past present-day Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Unlike the Willow Run Expressway, this section was built as a grade-separated highway from the start. On February 2, 1943, a five-mile extension to Southfield Road was opened. On December 8, 1943, an extension opens further town to Greenfield Road in Dearborn. On July 1, 1944, the last stretch opened to US 12 (Michigan Avenue) on the outskirts of Detroit. This completed the Detroit Industrial Expressway. It was one of the very few highways in the United States built during World War II. Elsewhere in the country, almost all construction activities were halted. This was because the Detroit Industrial Expressway was of great importance to arms production and was therefore able to continue. On March 1945, a formal opening was held for the entire highway from Ypsilanti to Detroit.

Edsel Ford Freeway

Immediately after the end of World War II, land acquisition began for the construction of the so-called Detroit Crosstown Expressway, a highway that would run through Detroit. On April 23, 1946, this planned highway was named the Edsel Ford Expressway. On July 9, 1951, the first 2 miles of the Edsel Ford Freeway opened in Detroit, from the then terminus of the Detroit Industrial Freeway to Livernois Avenue. On July 1, 1954, an extension opened up to Grand River Avenue, which at the time was the primary approach road from the west into downtown Detroit. In 1955, extensions beyond the later interchange with I-75 opened to traffic. On July 1, 1957, an extension opened further east to Mount Elliott Avenue, past General Motors’ large plant in Hamtramck. Thereafter, on December 16, 1959, the remaining portion was opened in Detroit itself, continuing to Vernier Road in Harper Woods. In 1962, the termFreeway was officially established as the term for highways in Michigan, giving the Detroit Industrial Freeway and the Edsel Ford Freeway their final names.

Elsewhere in Michigan

Immediately after World War II, plans were resumed for the Detroit-Chicago Superhighway. There were a number of route variants, including the current route that stayed in Michigan as long as possible, but there were also wishes to divert the highway from Kalamazoo to South Bend, Indiana, thus bypassing southwest Michigan through the Indiana Toll Road.

On December 1, 1949, the first section of I-94 outside the Detroit area was opened, 7 miles of the highway along the north side of the city of Jackson. The Jackson bypass was completed in 1951 and the first long stretch of rural highway opened in 1953, a 10-mile stretch between Parma and Jackson.

On December 8, 1954, the first section of the Port Huron bypass opened, connecting to Canada on the Blue Water Bridge. On June 29, 1956, the Interstate Highway system was officially established. At that time, Michigan had already opened 60 miles of I-94, 7 miles east of Kalamazoo, 15 miles along Jackson, 58 miles from Ypsilanti to Detroit and 2 miles around Port Huron.

The bypass was opened around Ann Arbor on September 29, 1956. This connected to the existing Willow Run Expressway to Detroit. On December 28, 1956, the southern bypass of Kalamazoo opened to traffic. Then, on October 3, 1958, a nearly five-mile section of I-94 opened between Galesburg and the southwest side of Battle Creek. This connected Kalamazoo and Battle Creek by highway. Until this moment, the highway was numbered and signposted as US 12. In 1959, the Michigan Department of Transportation began installing signposts with I-94.

On December 7, 1959, 41 miles opened at once on three stretches, 10 miles between a temporary exit west of Coloma and Hartford, 16 miles between Paw Paw and Kalamazoo, and 12 miles from I-94 along the south side of Battle Creek. On July 1, 1960, 20 miles opened between Battle Creek and Albion and on September 15, 1960, 23 miles opened between Hartford and Paw Paw. This allowed I-94 to continue on from near Benton Harbor, past Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Marshall, to beyond Jackson, a 175-mile stretch through central southern Michigan.

Then, on November 3, 1960, the bypass of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor opened in the southwest part of the state. With this, all major towns on the route in Michigan had a bypass, although a number of more rural parts were still missing. There were three major missing links at the time: from the Indiana border to St. Joseph, between Jackson and Ann Arbor, and between Detroit and Port Huron.

Later in 1960, the missing sections of I-94 opened between Jackson and Ann Arbor. This was partly the conversion of the existing US 12 to a freeway and partly a completely new highway. The highway has a lane split on this part with two separate railway viaducts over the highway. The work here was fully completed on 9 June 1961.

On August 16, 1963, I-94 opened further southwest to 1 mile from the Indiana border at New Buffalo. With this, except for the border section, the entire highway west of Detroit was completed. A 30-mile stretch east of Detroit opened on November 27, 1963, as far as Marysville, near Port Huron. This was one of the largest individual highway openings in Michigan history. On October 14, 1964, the missing link between Marysville and Port Huron opened. This left one missing link northeast of Detroit, which was completed in 1967 in the St. Clair Shores suburb. The last mile on the Indiana border opened on November 29, 1971for traffic. This section was delayed about 8 years because Indiana had focused on building the highways to the Indiana Toll Road and the route to Michigan was given a somewhat lower priority.

Later upgrades


I-94 has been widened in phases along Kalamazoo to 2×3 lanes. First, in 2008, the cloverleaf with US 131 on the south side of Kalamzoo to a clover turbine was reconstructed, while 4 kilometers of I-94 through the interchange was also widened to 2×3 lanes. In 2012, another 2 kilometers east of it was widened to just past Lover’s Lane. Between 2021 and 2023, 4 kilometers further east to Sprinkle Road has been widened.

Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti

Presumably in the 1990s, the five-mile section between US 23 in Ann Arbor and the junction with US 12 in Ypsilanti was widened to 2×3 lanes. The section from Ypsilanti to Romulus was one of the oldest highways in Michigan, having been widened to 2×3 lanes in the period 1972-1974. This section of I-94 connected a large Ford plant in Willow Run with the plants in Detroit.

Opening history

from nasty length date
Exit 190 Belleville Exit 192 Haggerty Road 2 km 01-07-1942
Exit 181 Ypsilanti Exit 185 Willow Run 6 km 17-08-1942
Exit 185 Willow Run Exit 190 Belleville 8 km 22-09-1942
Exit 192 Haggerty Road Exit 199 Middle Belt Road 11 km 23-11-1942
Exit 199 Middle Belt Road Exit 204 Southfield Road 8 km 03-02-1943
Exit 204 Southfield Road Exit 208 Greenfield Road 6 km 08-12-1943
Exit 208 Greenfield Road Exit 210 Michigan Avenue 3 km 01-07-1944
Exit 139 Downtown Jackson Exit 145 Jackson (East) 7 km 01-12-1949
Exit 85 Galesburg Exit 88 Galesburg 5 km 22-06-1951
Exit 210 Michigan Avenue Exit 212 Livernois Avenue 3 km 09-07-1951
Exit 138 US 127 Exit 139 Downtown Jackson 2 km 00-12-1951
Exit 212 Livernois Avenue Exit 212B Warren Avenue 1 km 23-10-1952
Exit 81 Kalamazoo (east) Exit 85 Galesburg 6 km 00-1x-1953
Exit 128 Parma Exit 138 US 127 16 km 05-11-1953
Exit 212B Warren Avenue Exit 214A Grand River Avenue 3 km 01-07-1954
Exit 274 Lapeer Avenue Exit 275 Downtown Port Huron 3 km 08-12-1954
Exit 214A Grand River Avenue Exit 215 Lodge Freeway (SR-10) 2 km 18-01-1955
Exit 180 US 23 Exit 181 Ypsilanti 2 km 09-07-1955
Exit 215 Lodge Freeway (SR-10) Exit 216B Russell Street 2 km 14-09-1955
Exit 175 Ann Arbor-Saline Road Exit 180 US 23 8 km 29-09-1956
Exit 76 Kalamazoo Exit 81 Kalamzoo (east) 8 km 28-12-1956
Exit 216B Russell Street Exit 217B Mount Elliott Avenue 2 km 01-07-1957
Exit 88 Galesburg Exit 92 Battle Creek (west) 6 km 03-10-1958
Exit 217B Mount Elliott Avenue Exit 220B Conner Avenue 5 km 16-12-1958
Exit 92 Battle Creek (west) Exit 104 Battle Creek (East) 19 km 07-12-1959
Exit 60 Paw Paw Exit 76 Kalamazoo 26 km 07-12-1959
Exit 39 Coloma Exit 46 Hartford 16 km 07-12-1959
Exit 220B Conner Avenue Exit 225 Vernier Road 8 km 16-12-1959
Exit 124 Albion Exit 128 Parma 6 km 25-03-1960
Exit 104 Battle Creek (East) Exit 124 Albion 32 km 01-07-1960
Exit 46 Hartford Exit 60 Paw Paw 23 km 15-09-1960
Exit 23 St Joseph (South) Exit 39 Coloma 20 km 03-11-1960
Exit 145 Jackson (East) Exit 153 Clear Lake Road 13 km 10-11-1960
Exit 153 Clear Lake Road Exit 175 Ann Arbor-Saline Road 35 km 19-12-1960
Exit 12 Sawyer Exit 23 St Joseph (South) 18 km 21-11-1961
Exit 4 New Buffalo Exit 12 Sawyer 13 km 13-07-1962
Exit 1 New Buffalo Exit 4 New Buffalo 5 km 16-08-1963
Exit 236 Metropolitan Parkway Exit 266 Marysville 48 km 27-11-1963
Exit 266 Marysville Exit 274 Lapeer Avenue 13 km 14-10-1964
Exit 234 Harper Avenue Exit 236 Metropolitan Parkway 3 km 18-12-1964
Exit 225 Vernier Road Exit 234 Harper Avenue 14 km 02-02-1967
Indiana state line Exit 1 New Buffalo 1 km 29-11-1971


It is planned to widen a 7.5-mile section of I-94 in Detroit from 2×3 to 2×4 lanes, between I-96 and Conner Street. The highway is being thoroughly modernized, the highway is largely deepened and the bridges over the highway mainly date from the 1950s and almost all are replaced. Continuous frontage roads are also being built. The implementation will cost $2.9 billion and was originally planned for 2014-2018, but now talk of 2019-2036.

Traffic intensities

Despite the fact that there are 2×3 lanes from the border to St. Joseph, the traffic volumes are quite low, with barely 40,000 vehicles per day. Towards Kalamazoo there are 30,000 and 48,000 between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. East of Battle Creek, the intensities remain quite low at around 32,000 units. It’s only east of Jackson that the intensities start to ramp up slowly, reaching 77,000 just before Ann Arbor. When one considers the Detroit metropolitan areaentering, the intensities exceed 100,000 vehicles per day. In Dearborn, 120,000 vehicles drive every 24 hours. 150,000 vehicles drive past the center and slightly beyond the center this peaks at 180,000 vehicles per day. After that, the intensities drop slowly, but it takes until Chesterfield for the intensities to drop below 100,000. Outside the urban area, the intensities collapse to 25,000 vehicles. About 14,500 vehicles cross the Canadian border every day.

History of Interstate 94 in Michigan

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