Wisconsin has a dense network of roads, especially in the east and south due to its intensive farming. The main thoroughfare is I-94 for traffic between Minneapolis and Chicago. Wisconsin’s highway network is well developed, many major highways are 2×2 lanes, and many non-interstate highways are partially freeway.
The state highway authority is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, abbreviated WisDOT. WisDOT manages approximately 19,300 kilometers of state highways, US Highways and Interstate Highways. WisDOT also manages about 14,000 bridges.
WisDOT has its origins in the State Highway Commission that was established in 1911. In 1918, the state was the first in the United States to sign road numbering. In 1967, the current Wisconsin Department of Transportation was formed by merging several agencies.
- Bittranslators: State overview of Wisconsin, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Wisconsin.
The split of I-39 and I-90/94 at Portage.
A number of Interstate Highways run through Wisconsin. Interstate 39 forms a north-south route from Beloit via Madison to Wausau. Interstate 41 begins in Milwaukee and runs through Oshkosh and Appleton to Green Bay. Interstate 43 begins in Beloit and runs through Milwaukee along Lake Michigan to Green Bay. Interstate 90 forms an east-west route that actually runs more north-south from La Crosse via Madison to Beloit. Interstate 94 is the longest route, running from the Minnesota border through Eau Claire, Madison, and Milwaukee to the Illinois border.
There is a complex double-numbering of Interstate Highways in the center of the state. Between Beloit and Madison, I-39 and I-90 are double-numbered. Between Madison and Portage, I-39, I-90, and I-94 are double-numbered, and further from Portage to Tomah, I-90 and I-94 are double-numbered. Between Madison and Chicago, traffic can choose to use I-90 via Rockford, Illinois, or I-94 via Milwaukee, as both routes converge again in Chicago.
There are also some auxiliary routes of the Interstate Highways. Interstate 535 connects Superior and Duluth, Minnesota and is Wisconsin’s northernmost Interstate Highway. Interstate 794 is a spur near downtown Milwaukee and Interstate 894 forms a bypass along the west and south sides of Milwaukee and is partly double-numbered with I-43.
- Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Wisconsin as The Badger State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.
Several US Highways traverse Wisconsin. US 2 runs through the far north of the state, from Superior to Ironwood. US 8 is a more secondary east-west route through the north of the state and does not visit significant places. US 10 is a major east-west route, partly as a freeway or 2×2 divided highway from Marshfield to Appleton. US 12 is a more secondary east-west route that runs southeast parallel to I-94. The southernmost section from Elkhorn to the Illinois border has been constructed as a freeway and was once envisaged as an important approach road to the Chicago region, but has only been partially constructed in Wisconsin.
US 14 forms a secondary east-west route through the southwestern part of the state, from La Crosse through Madison to the Illinois border. US 18 forms an east-west route through the south of the state, with I-94 running parallel to it east of Madison. Then follow a number of north-south routes. US 41 leads north from the Illinois border through Milwaukee and Oshkosh to Green Bay and is numbered I-41 here. US 45 forms a more secondary route parallel to it, but has been extended as a freeway north of Milwaukee to West Bend. The US 51 was historically the main north-south route through the center of the state, but has been largely replaced by I-39. North of Wausau it is still a semi-freeway to Tomahawk. US 53 forms a north-south route through the west of the state, and has been extended as a freeway over a longer stretch between Eau Claire and Rice Lake, then as a 2×2 divided highway to Superior. US 61 is the westernmost north-south route in the south of the state, from Dubuque to La Crosse. US 63 runs through the northwest of the state. US 141 runs through the northeast, and US 151 is a major diagonal route through the south of the state and is largely a 2×2 divided highway or even freeway from Dubuque via Madison to Fond Du Lac and on to Manitowoc.
State Trunk Highways
The state highways are called ‘State Trunk Highways’ in Wisconsin, together with Minnesota this is the only state where the word ‘trunk’ is used. In 1918, Wisconsin was the first state in the United States to introduce signposted road numbering. At that time the numbering went from 11 to 199. At that time it was very unusual for states to give so many roads a number, most states only had more than 100 numbers until the 1930s. The numbering currently runs from 10 to 193, with a small number of higher numbers. WIS 35 is the longest state trunk highway at 663 kilometers.
Several state trunk highways are designed as freeways;
- WIS 16: Oconomowoc – Waukesha
- WIS 26: Janesville – Milton, Fort Atkinson – Jefferson, Watertown Bypass, Waupun Bypass
- WIS 119: Airport Spur Freeway in Milwaukee
- WIS 145: Fond du Lac Freeway in Milwaukee
- WIS 172: around Green Bay
- WIS 175: Stadium Freeway in Milwaukee
- WIS 341: Stadium Freeway in Milwaukee
- WIS 441: around Appleton
- WIS 794: Lake Parkway in Milwaukee
There are no toll roads in Wisconsin, the state has never had any.
Wisconsin’s first highway was a 700-foot section of the Stadium Freeway, later numbered State Route 341 in Milwaukee, which opened in 1953. In 1954, a plan was drawn up for a turnpike from Hudson to Milwaukee. Hudson is located on the border with Minnesota and is said to connect Minneapolis to Milwaukee, more or less what is now Interstate 94. A toll road between Milwaukee and Chicago was also studied in 1955.
In 1956 the Interstate Highway system was created. The first stretch of Interstate Highway then immediately went into construction and on September 4, 1958, Wisconsin’s first Interstate Highway was opened, a stretch of Interstate 94 in Waukesha, west of Milwaukee. One of the earlier plans was an Interstate Highway from Chicago to Madison, but via Genoa City and Elkhorn, which is now US 12. This plan fell through in favor of a highway through Rockford and Janesville, today’s Interstate 90.
Some routes were not included in the 1956 Interstate plan, such as no route between Milwaukee and Green Bay, partly because it was not possible to agree on a western corridor via US 41 or an eastern corridor via Manitowoc, which later became the I. would be -43. It was also proposed in 1963 to build an Interstate Highway from Green Bay to Superior, through northern Wisconsin. However, this was not approved, but the route between Milwaukee and Green Bay was approved as an Interstate Highway in 1972. In the early 1980s it was proposed to build an Interstate Highway from Janesville to Milwaukee, but the route from Beloit to Milwaukee was preferred.
Three quarters of the route length was constructed between 1959 and 1969. By 1969, the rural parts of the Interstates were completed, ahead of the US average. The Interstate Highway system in Wisconsin was more or less complete in its planned form by 1981. In 1985, I-43 became a track between Milwaukee and Green Bay. It would eventually turn out that the alternative western route, the I-41 via Fond du Lac and Appleton, would also come. In 2013, the first signposts were installed for this purpose. In 1992, Interstate 39 was approved as a number for a pre-existing highway consisting of I-90, I-94, and US 51. existed. It was not until 1996 that the first signposts with the number I-39 appeared. From the end of 1998, the triple numbering of I-39, I-90 and I-94 between Madison and Portage was created. On October 24, 2016, a diverging diamond interchange opened at Exit 177 of I-39/90 just south of Janesville. This was the first DDI in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin was the last state in the Midwest to raise the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph. This happened in 2015. The 65 mph speed limit was first introduced in 1949, at the time only during the day and only for light vehicles. Wisconsin had no freeways at the time. In 1962, the state had a growing network of Interstate Highways, and the speed limit was increased to 70 mph. However, in 1973, in response to the oil crises, the speed limit was lowered nationwide to 55 mph. This was no longer required nationally since 1987, but it wasn’t until 1996 that Wisconsin went back up to 65 mph. Since 2015 it is allowed to drive 70 mph.