Early Willow Run, Detroit Industrial & Edsel Ford Freeways
The Michigan State Highway Department was well underway constructing a system of freeways both in Southeast Michigan in and around greater Detroit, but also connecting many of the state's larger cities as well as metro areas outside the state, even before there were such things as Interstate Highways.
What began as an endeavor to get workers in Detroit to the war munitions plants in Ypsilanti quicker and more efficiently eventually grew into a freeway extending first to, then through Detroit on the east and bypassing Ann Arbor on the west. Of course, today this corridor is but a segment in the I-94 freeway as it travels 275 miles across the Lower Peninsula from New Buffalo on Lake Michigan to Port Huron at the southernmost point of Lake Huron.
Since so much work was completed on the I-94 corridor even before I-94
itself existed as a route designation, the year-by-year history listings
below act as companion pieces to the year-by-year history in the I-94
Listing in the Route Listings section
of this website. Links at the end of each of the histories point to the I-94
Listing and vice-versa.
Prior to the construction of the Willow Run and Detroit Industrial Expressways, the main route between Detroit and Ypsilanti was US-12/Michigan Ave. Within less than a year after the U.S. joined World War II, the State Highway Dept had built the Willow Run Expwy and by the end of the decade, the Detroit Industrial had extended this highway to the western limits of Detroit to a connection with the planned Detroit Crosstown Expressway, now known as the Edsel Ford Freeway.
|1941||Construction begins on the Willow Run Expressway system, linking the Ford Motor Co bomber plant at Willow Run just east of Ypsilanti in Washtenaw Co with highways continuing easterly into Detroit. Congestion of existing arteries—namely US-112/Michigan Ave and M-17/Ecorse Rd—has been negatively impacting the ability of workers to get to the bomber plants at Willow Run, thereby negatively impacting wartime productivity levels.|
|The War Department authorizes construction of the Willow Run Expwy under provisions of the Defence Highway Act of 1941, although some of the highway has already been completed with the Michigan State Highway Dept having begun construction on the vital linkage prior to receiving final federal approval. At the time of War Department approval, the total anticipated cost of the Willow Run Expwy, including right-of-way, is expected to be $12 million.|
|1942 (Sept)||The 8.7 miles of the M-112/Willow Run Expwy are completed from the Willow Run Bomber Plants (constructed at Willow Run Airport expressly for the war effort) near Ypsilanti to M-56/Huron River Dr at Romulus. Constructed alongside Chase Rd, the Willow Run Expwy is a four-lane divided highway with some cross-road intersections, but no residential or commercial access. It is remarkable that bomber production at the plant began in June 1941—the U.S. entered World War II on December 7, 1941— and a brand-new, four-lane expressway serving the bomber plants was completed and opented to traffic just 15 months later! Ford Motor Co., the operator of the Willow Run Bomber Plants, was finding it quite difficult to retain workers when they either faced a commute taking over an hour and requiring great amounts of rationed gasoline or had to live in hastily-constructed dormitories at the site. The Willow Run Expwy cuts commuting time from the Detroit suburbs and improves safety along its route.|
|1943–1944||The eastbound lanes of the M-112/Detroit Industrial Expwy are completed from the eastern end of the Willow Run Expwy at North Line Rd in Romulus to Southfield Hwy in Allen Park. By 1944, the westbound lanes of the freeway were completed. Unlike the Willow Run Expwy, the "DIE" is built as a completely limited-access freeway with interchanges and grade separations throughout.|
|1945||Just in time for the end of the war, the final segment of the M-112/Detroit Industrial Expwy is completed between Southfield Hwy in Allen Park and US-112/Michigan Ave on the Detroit/Dearborn city limit. Already a "Crosstown Expressway" is in the works to extend the "DIE" easterly across the city of Detroit.|
|Six years after the last segment of the Detroit Industrial Expwy was completed, the first segment of the Edsel Ford Expwy is completed and opened to traffic from Wyoming Ave at the eastern end of the "DIE" to Livernois Ave. Mrs. Edsel Ford and other members of the Ford family are present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.|
|1953||The next segment of the Edsel Ford Expwy is completed from Livernois Ave easterly to US-12/US-16/Grand River Ave northwest of downtown Detroit. It is unclear whether the Edsel Ford Expwy sported a state highway designation at this time or not. If not, it would receive one within a couple years.|
|The Edsel Ford Expwy is completed from Grand River Ave to the John C Lodge Expwy (which has no route number yet) north of downtown Detroit.|
|1955||By 1955, the Edsel Ford is open to Russell St, which is generally the location of the present-day I-75/Walter P Chrysler Frwy interchange.|
|1956||In mid-1956, the M-112 designation from Ypsilanti into Detroit along the Willow Run, Detroit Industrial & Edsel Ford Expwys between Ypsilanti and the John C Lodge Expwy in Detroit is replaced by US-12. (At the John C Lodge, US-12 turns south to head into downtown Detroit—becoming the Lodge's first route designation!) It is still unclear if the Edsel Ford Expwy east of the Lodge sported a highway designation at this time.|
|1957||The Edsel Ford Expwy is completed to Mount Elliot Rd on Detroit's near East Side.|
|1958||In the fall of 1958, the Edsel Ford is completed as far as Conner St on Detroit's east side. Also this year, the so-called "Willow Run Bypass" is constructed at Ypsilanti, providing a direct connection between the southern end of Wiard Rd (present-day Exit 186) and the US-112 bypass of Ypsilanti (present-day Exit 185).|
|1959||The Edsel Ford Expwy is completed first to Moross Rd on the eastern limit of Detroit, then to M-29/Vernier Rd in Harper Woods. All sources point to the fact that the Edsel Ford east of the Lodge still did not carry a route number at this time. (This would change in 1960.)|
In addition to the freeways built into and through Detroit above, the US-12 corridor in Outstate Michigan was also being gradually upgraded to expressway and freeway standards as part of the proposed "Detroit-Chicago Expressway." Bypasses of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Jackson and Kalamazoo were either complete or underway even before I-94 arrived on the scene. In fact, additional freeway segments were already planned for the St Joseph/Benton Harbor and Battle Creek areas as well.
|1956||Major changes to US-12 (the
future route of I-94)
occur during this time:
|1957||The 1953 highway alignment of US-12 between the east side of Kalamazoo and just east of Galesburg is converted to a fully-limited access freeway.|
|1958||Several more major changes occur to US-12 (the future route of I-94):