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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan
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Southern Terminus:    M-3/Gratiot Ave in Detroit, northeast of downtown (cnr of Van Dyke & Gratiot Aves)
Northern Terminus:    M-25 in downtown Port Austin (cnr Lake St & Spring St)
Length: 120.986 miles
Maps: Route Map of M-53
Notes: Excepting the freeway portion in Macomb County and inside the cities of Bad Axe and Port Austin, M-53 is known as Van Dyke Rd or Van Dyke Ave in its entirety. Van Dyke Ave/Rd in Macomb County is also known as the Earle Memorial Hwy, named for early highway proponent and first Michigan State Highway Commissioner, Horatio "Good Roads" Earle.
  The freeway portion of M-53 from Sterling Heights to Washington in Macomb County is the "Christopher Columbus Freeway." Plans, which were never realized, were to continue the M-53 freeway southerly via the Mound Rd corridor through Sterling Heights and Warren into Detroit to a proposed connection with an extended Davison Frwy, then on to the I-94/Edsel Ford Frwy in Detroit. A full freeway-to-freeway interchange was constructed on I-696/Walter P Reuther Frwy at Mound Rd in anticipation of the completion of the "Mound Road Freeway."
  In the early 2000s, a credible source claimed much of Mound Rd in Sterling Heights and Warren was being planned as a new routing of M-53. At the time, MDOT's Metro Region was in the design stage with "plans for the proposed ramps and 5-lane cross section of 18½ Mile Road...being developed to reconfigure the connection between M-53 and Mound Road." At Mound, the M-53 designation was to presumably continue southerly through Warren. There was no indication of what would have happened to the M-53 routing in the City of Detroit, however. The existing routing of M-53 along Van Dyke Ave was to have been offered back to the local jurisdictions. The plan made a great deal of sense, seeing that Mound Rd has 4- to 8-lanes throughout, divided with "Michigan Left Turns" at intersections. While some of Van Dyke Ave in Sterling Heights was upgraded in the 1990s, much of that road is undivided with little control of business and residential ingress and egress. Ironically, if all had gone the way planners had originally hoped in the late 1906s and early 1970s, the Mound Rd corridor would currently be home to an M-53 freeway. (There are no longer any plans to convert Mound Rd into a freeway.) Do date, nothing has come of this proposal and it is unknown how far it progressed before being shelved.
  The so-called "Romeo Bypass" in northwest Macomb Co has been an ongoing project to improve the flow of traffic in this part of Metro Detroit. Originally opened in 1992 from 27½ Mile Rd to 34 Mile Rd, the highway was to have been built as a fully-controlled access freeway initially. However, MDOT only completed the bypass as a "Super 2 expressway," a two-lane, undivided highway where some intersecting roads were grade-separated (overpassed or underpassed) while others featured intersections with traffic signals. While this did accomplish part of the goal—to remove heavy traffic from the overburdened old route through downtown Romeo—it was not the freeway as initially envisioned. In the early part of the first decade of the 2000s, MDOT announced plans to bring the "Romeo Bypass" one step closer to its eventual "freeway-ization." New northbound lanes were completed in 2004, although intersections remain at 30 Mile and 32 Mile Rds. Sources have stated freeway interchanges are planned at these two intersections in the long-term, however.
  In an interesting twist, in 2006, MDOT and MSP increased the speed limit along the four-lane "expressway" portion of the Romeo Bypass. However, since that portion of highway is not officially a freeway and since Michigan has no "middle ground" in speed limits—freeways can be signed at 70 mph, while ALL other roads are limited to 55 mph or less, even if they are nearly freeway—the portions of the bypass between the remaining intersections is now posted at 70 mph, with very short 55 mph segments right at the intersections. Website visitor Mike Baysdell even notes the speed limit jumps back up to 70 mph before you get to the Michigan Left turnarounds! A 70 mph freeway speed limit on an expressway-quality road with interections is rather odd, although assigning an appropriate and reasonable speed limit despite these idiosyncracies is refreshing... —Many thanks to Mike!
  In "State Trunkline Needs, 1960–1980," a set of maps prepared by the State Highway Dept's Office of Planning, Programming Division in 1960 showing possible additions, upgrades and improvements to the state trunkline system over the ensuing twenty years, MSHD staff recommended many changes to the route of M-53 during that timeframe, including:
  • Constructing an M-53 freeway from an upgraded US-25/Gratiot Ave "Freeway" in Detroit northerly, generally in the Mount Elliot St corridor from Gratiot to Caniff Ave, then in the Mound Rd corridor from Caniff northerly to M-102/Eight Mile Rd. This proposal was never implemented.
  • In Macomb Co, the proposed M-53 freeway was to shift to the west from an interchange at M-102/Eight Mile Rd & Mound Rd and run approximately ½ mile west and parallel to Mound Rd northerly to 16 Mile Rd where it would bend northeasterly to intersect the existing route of M-53 at 18 Mile Rd. From there the M-53 freeway would turn back northerly to run to approximately 1¼ miles east of the existing route, through a freeway-to-freeway interchange with a proposed M-59 freeway at 21 Mile Rd, then northerly before crossing back over its existing route (with an interchange) at 30 Mile Rd. The proposed freeway would then bypass Romeo to the west and continue due northerly to about 34 Mile Rd where it would bend slightly to the west and proceed into Lapeer Co. Within five years of this proposal, an M-53 freeway was completed from 18 Mile Rd in Sterling Twp (south of Utica) northerly to 27½ Mile Rd at Washington south of Romeo. Almost 30 years later, an eastern bypass of Romeo was completed (as an expressway instead of freeway). The remainder of the proposal for M-53 in Macomb Co was never realized.
  • In Lapeer Co, the proposed M-53 freeway was to continue northerly within two miles of the existing route bypassing Almont and Imlay City to the west, with a freeway-to-freeway interchange with a proposed M-21 freeway southwest of Imlay City. A BUS M-53 was proposed for Imlay City beginning at the M-52 & M-21 freeway interchange and proceeding easterly via the M-21 freeway to the existing route of M-53, then north into Imlay City concurrently with a proposed BUS M-21 routing, where it would then turn westerly via 4th St to Blacks Corners Rd then along a new alignment to an interchange with the M-53 freeway. (The proposed BUS M-21 would continue southerly along the M-53 freeway from this point back to its parent route southwest of Imlay City.) None of this proposal was ever put into place.
  • The proposed M-53 freeway was to continue northerly into Sanilac and Huron Cos, bypassing Marlette to the west before crossing over the existing M-53 approximately one mile south of M-46 where it then was to proceed northerly on an alignment bearing slightly to the east to a terminus at the existing route of M-53 on the western limits of the City of Bad Axe. While the planning maps show the proposed freeway ending at M-53 west of downtown Bad Axe, they are drawn in such a way that a northerly extension could be easily tacked on in the future, if desired, facilitating a bypass of the city. As with Lapeer Co, none of this proposal in Sanilac and Huron Cos was ever implemented.
History: 1920 – In 1922, M-53 follows the following routing: Beginning at M-19/Gratiot Ave in Detroit and proceeding northerly via Mount Elliot Ave to Seven Mile Rd, easterly to Van Dyke Ave, northerly leaving Detroit via Van Dyke through Centerline and Utica to Washington. From there, M-53 cuts east for one mile on 27 Mile Rd, then northerly via Jewell Rd and Main St into Romeo. M-53 continues northerly from Romeo via Van Dyke to Kidder, westerly via 37 Mile Rd to Hipp Rd, and northerly back to Van Dyke Rd at the Lapeer/Macomb Co line. In Lapeer Co, M-53 continues northerly on Van Dyke through Almont, then northerly on Howland Rd, westerly via Hollow Corners Rd, northerly on Shoemaker, Henesy and Fairground Rds into Imlay City. From Imlay City, M-53 runs northerly via Almont Ave, Fairground Rd and Seabury Rd back to present-day Van Dyke Rd, then northerly on Van Dyke into Marlette. There, M-53 turns westerly from Main St onto Marlette St for three blocks, then northerly again via Lamotte St to present-day Van Dyke Rd north of town. Northerly via Van Dyke through Sanilac Co into Huron Co. At the community of Popple five miles southwest of Bad Ave, M-52 leaves Van Dyke Rd to head northerly for 3½ miles via Pinnebog Rd to end at M-31 (present-day M-142) four miles east of Elkton.
  1922 – M-53 is realigned in north Detroit: from Mount Elliot Rd, M-53 now turns westerly via Seven Mile Rd to Mound Rd, then northerly via Mound to Eight Mile Rd, then easterly for one mile to Van Dyke Ave and northery from there. Also, between Washington and Romeo in Macomb Co, a new, more-direct alignment of M-53/Van Dyke Ave opens.
  1923 – M-53 is removed from Pinnebog Rd between Van Dyke Rd and M-31 (present-day M-142) in Huron Co and transferred onto its present Van Dyke Rd alignment into Bad Axe, where the highway terminates at jct M-19 & M-31 downtown.
  1925 – Van Dyke Ave in Detroit becomes the new alignment of M-53, beginning at M-19 (to become US-25 in about a year)/Gratiot Ave and heading northerly into Macomb Co. The former alignment along Mount Elliot, Seven Mile, Mound and Eight Mile Rds is turned back to local control.
  1926 – M-53 is extended northerly from Bad Axe for an additional 17 miles along what had been designated M-19, which itself is scaled back to east of Bad Axe. M-53 now ends at M-29 in downtown Port Austin.
  1928 (July 11) – The Detroit City Council approves the request made jointly by Grover C Dillman, State Highway Dept engineer, and John W Reid, commissioner of public works, to erect route markers on the various streets in Detroit carrying state trunkline highway routes. M-53 is to be signed along Van Dyke Ave from the northern city limit southerly to US-25/Gratiot Ave.
  1932 – The route of M-53 is transferred onto new alignment beginning at M-21 east of downtown Imlay City, then northerly for 3 miles. The former route north of downtown is turned back to local control.
  c.1936–37 – The remainder of M-53 is transferred onto its new alignment from M-21 at Imlay City southerly for 4 miles. The former route through downtown is turned back to local control.
  1939 (Apr 11) – M-53 is also designated as the "Earle Memorial Highway" to honor Michigan's first State Highway Commissioner, Horatio S. "Good Roads" Earle.
  1940 – The final 11 miles of gravel-surfaced M-53 are paved, in Huron and Sanilac Counties.
  1947 – A few sharp curves on M-53 north of Romeo are "smoothed out" with a minor realignment.
  1952 – Three miles of divided highway are completed along M-53 between 14 Mile and 17 Mile Rds in Sterling Twp (present-day Sterling Heights) north of Warren.
  1953 – An additional two miles of divided highway are open between 12 Mile and 14 Mile Rds in Warren.
  1965 – The M-53 Freeway is completed from 18 Mile Rd in Sterling Twp (south of Utica) northerly to 27½ Mile Rd at Washington south of Romeo. Plans, which were never realized, were to continue the M-53 freeway southerly via the Mound Rd corridor to a proposed connection with an extended Davison Frwy, then on to the I-94/Edsel Ford Frwy in Detroit.
  1970 (Jan 20, Sept) – Planning for the M-53 freeway in Macomb Co from I-696/Walter P Reuther Frwy in Warren northerly along Mound Rd to 18½ Mile Rd in Sterling Heights, then jogging easterly along 18½ Mile to the southern end of the existing M-53 freeway near Utica. A Corridor Public Hearing is held on January 20 and the Dept of State Highways requests location approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in September.
  1989 – Construction on the "Romeo Bypass" begins. This route is designed to be a freeway bypass of Romeo from the northern end of the current freeway to 34 Mile Rd.
  1991 (Sept 26) Updated 2023-12 – The 7.591-mile "Romeo Bypass" between 27½ Mile and 34 Mile Rds in Macomb County is officially established as a state trunkline highway route, although completion of the new highway and its opening to traffic will not occur until the next year. (The existing route of M-53 is unaffected.)
  1992 – The "Romeo Bypass" is completed and opens to traffic between 27½ Mile and 34 Mile Rds in Macomb County. However, either to save money or complete a relief route in less time, the bypass is opened only as a two-lane, limited-access expressway, with a mix of both overpasses and intersections at crossroads. (See "Notes" Section above.) The former route of M-53 through Romeo remains an unsigned state trunkline highway internally designated by MDOT as OLD M-53, however.
  2001 (July 6) – The 3.17-mile segment of OLD M-53 along Van Dyke Ave from 31 Mile Rd south of Romeo to 34 Mile Rd north of Romeo in Macomb Co (as well as the 0.20-mile segment of the former M-53 from the northern conenctor to a cul-de-sac immediately south of 34 Mile Rd) is transferred from MDOT to County jurisdiction, nearly a decade after the Romeo bypass was completed and opened to traffic. As part of the transfer, MDOT completed restoration work on the route, while Macomb Co agreed to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Van Dyke & Durham St on the southern edge of Romeo.
  2002 – Construction on the new northbound lanes of the "Romeo Bypass" begins. While intersections will remain at two locations along the bypass, the limited-access expressway will have four lanes separated by a median when the project is complete.
  2002 (Dec 19) Updated 2023-12 – Cancellation as an (unsigned) state trunkline of the remainder of OLD M-53 (Van Dyke Ave) in the Romeo area is completed when 3.642 miles of Van Dyke Ave from the Van Dyke Cutoff northerly to 31 Mile Rd south of Romeo and the 0.174-mile Van Dyke Cutoff between M-53 and Van Dyke Rd are transferred to County control. All parts of Van Dyke Ave (OLD M-53) superseded by the "Romeo Bypass" have now been cancelled as state trunkline highway routes and turned back to local control.
Controlled Access: Freeway: From 18 Mile Rd in Sterling Heights to 27 Mile Rd north of Washington. (9.7 miles)
  Expressway: From the northern end of the freeway (above) near 27 Mile Rd north of Washington to 34 Mile Rd north of Romeo. (7.6 miles)
NHS: The segment of M-53 from its southern terminus at M-3/Gratiot Ave in Detroit to the northern jct of M-142 north of Bad Axe is on the National Highway System (NHS). (105 miles)
Circle Tour: Lake Huron Circle Tour MarkerLake Huron Circle Tour: From the southern jct of M-25 to the northern terminus at the northern jct with M-25 in Port Austin. (0.4 miles)
Memorial Highways:  The following Memorial Highway designations have been officially assigned to parts of M-53 by the Michigan Legislature:
  • Earle Memorial Highway – "Highway M-53 extending from the city of Detroit north to M-25 in Huron County..." From MDOT: "Before a mile of Michigan roadway was paved or a centerline painted, before Henry Ford rolled his first Model A off the assembly line, there was Horatio 'Good Roads' Earle. At the turn of the century, this young entrepreneur and bicycle enthusiast was president of the League of American Wheelmen. This group, founded in 1880, fought for better roads and streets and the rights of bicyclists to use them. In 1892, they convinced the Michigan legislature to establish a state highway commission to recommend road improvements. Earle was a visionary; as early as 1901, he envisioned a system of roads that would connect every major city and every state capital. He founded the American Road Makers of 1902, which later became the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and lobbied for federal funding of road construction. Earle's zeal on behalf of the good-roads movement brought him national prominence and focused the attention of Michigan residents on the roads issue. In 1905, voters in 83 Michigan counties approved an amendment to the state's constitution authorizing state spending for roads, and creating the Michigan State Highway Department. The new department set up business in the office of the Speaker of the House in the State Capitol with an annual operating budget of $10,000 and a staff of five. Earle became the state's first highway commissioner."
  • Det. Sgt. Christopher M. Wouters Memorial Highway – "The portion of highway M-53 in Macomb County beginning at the intersection with 14 Mile Road and extending south to the intersection with 8 Mile Road..." From the Michigan Legislature: "On October 11, 2000, an individual was arrested by undercover officers for a narcotics violation. When officers instructed the suspect to stand for a more thorough search, the suspect pulled a handgun from his pants and started running from the area. One of the officers jumped on the suspect from behind, and as Detective Wouters arrived to assist the officer, he was shot. The suspect struggled with the other officer, and the gun discharged, killing the suspect instantly. Detective Wouters was transported to a local hospital, where he died of his injuries 45 minutes later. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant. Detective Sergeant Wouters had been with the Warren Police Department for 19 years."
  • Christopher Columbus Freeway – "The portion of highway M-53 beginning at the northern city limit of the city of Sterling Heights and extending north to the village of Washington in Macomb County..." From MDOT: "Christopher Columbus (c. 1451 to May 20, 1506) was an Italian explorer and navigator. In 1492, he sailed across the Atlantic from Spain in the Santa Maria, with the Pinta and the Niña ships alongside, hoping to find a new route to India. Between 1492 and 1504, he made a total of four voyages to the Caribbean and South America and has been credited for opening up the Americas to European colonization."
  • POW/MIA Memorial Freeway – "The part of M-53 located between 27 Mile Road and 34 Mile Road in Macomb County..." From MDOT: "Named in honor of American prisoners of war and those who were and are missing in action."
  • SOC Jason R. Freiwald Memorial Highway – "The portion of highway M-53 in Macomb County between 31 Mile Road and 32 Mile Road..." From the Michigan Legislature: "On September 11, 2008, Chief Petty Officer Jason Freiwald was in Afghanistan on a top-secret night mission. He was the lead breach on the team. Upon entering the compound and engaging in a battle with heavily armed militants, Jason sustained fatal injuries and died from those injuries on September 12, 2008. He was 30 years old."
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