Transportation Timeline

  • First State-owned Ferry 1923

    From mud roads to interstates, Michigan has come a long way since the State Highway Department was created in 1905. In the early 1900s, Michigan emerged as a leader in transportation firsts and innovations, both nationally and worldwide. These accomplishments included the first mile of concrete highway built, the first painted centerline, the first roadside park, and the first four-way red/yellow/green electric traffic light. In the years following, MDOT added other achievements, including the successful Adopt-A-Highway program to keep the state's highway roadsides clean and attractive, and opening the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge that links Michigan's two peninsulas. Today, MDOT continues to write history, leading the nation in traffic safety and connected vehicle technology research, as well as pioneering "paperless" construction contracts and project designs.

    Learn about MDOT's first century of progress and the department's transportation firsts and innovations.


  • Horatio "Good Roads" Earle was Michigan's first Highway Commissioner.1900s

    1905
    State Highway Department established, Horatio "Good Roads" Earle becomes Michigan's first state highway commissioner


    1909
    Nation's first mile of rural concrete highway on Woodward Avenue in Detroit

  • First "crows nest" traffic signal tower was erected in Detroit in 1917.1910s1911
    Nation's first centerline on River Road near Trenton painted by the Wayne County Road Commission 
    (considered one of the most important safety devices in the history of auto transportation)
    Note: First centerline on a state highway was in 1917. 

    1912
    First Highway Department to establish a testing laboratory

    1917
    First "crow's nest" traffic signal tower erected in Detroit (Woodward Avenue at Michigan Avenue)

    1919
    Approval of first state bond program for highways leading to a five-year construction program that produces 3,600 miles of state highway
     
    Nation's first roadside park along US-2 in Iron County
  • Highway Department links the Upper and Lower peninsulas with state-owned ferry service at the Straits of Mackinac in 1923.1920s

    1920
    First four-way red-yellow-green traffic light in Detroit (Fort at Woodward)

    1922
    The first practical snowplow is designed and built by Edward Levy in Munising

    1923
    Highway Department links the upper and lower peninsulas with state-owned ferry service at the Straits of Mackinac
    (ends in 1957 with the opening of the Mackinac Bridge)

    1925
    Approval of the first state gasoline tax, a levy of two cents per gallon

    First Highway Department to use aerial surveys for highway design

    1926
    For the first time, state map includes mileage table showing distances between selected cities

    1927
    First yellow no-passing line used in Michigan

  • Nation's first state-operated information center 1930s

    1930
    World's first international underwater auto tunnel (Detroit-Windsor Tunnel)

    Federal aid money for highways split between Highway Department and Welfare Department and thousands of "reliefers" put to work

    1935
    Nation's first state-operated information center (now called Welcome Centers) opens near New Buffalo

    The first state-owned roadside park opens on M-43, east of East Lansing

  • Michigan's first urban depressed freeway1940s

    1942
    Michigan's first four-lane divided expressway
    (built in 11 months to carry workers from Detroit area to Ford Motor Company bomber plant in Ypsilanti)

    Nation's first urban depressed freeway opens - Davison Expressway through Highway Park (now M-8)

     



  • The five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge opens to traffic in 1957, linking Michigan's two peninsulas.1950s

    1951
    Public Act 51 passes which prohibits mingling general state funds with road receipts

    1955
    World's first freeway-to-freeway interchange (at I-94 and M-10 in Detroit) allows motorists to make easy directional turns

    1956
    Congressional approval of a national interstate freeway system triggers the greatest highway building program in history

    1957
    The five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge opens to traffic, linking Michigan's two peninsulas

    State Highway Department leases its first aircraft

    1958
    First "Welcome to Michigan" signs on major trunklines, also first "Gas-Food-Lodging" signs

    1959
    The Houghton-Hancock Bridge opens - a huge double-decker lift bridge with a four-lane highway on top and a railroad track below

  • International Bridge opens  in 1962� linking the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and Ontario1960s

    1960-1970
    The heyday of road construction - nearly 1,000 miles of interstate built in this decade

    1960
    Michigan is the first state to complete a border-to-border toll-free interstate - I-94, running 205 miles from Detroit to New Buffalo

    State Highway Department becomes one of first in the nation to develop and operate a truck "weigh-in-motion" system

    1962
    International Bridge opens - linking the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and Ontario, Canada

  • MDOT develops nation's largest vanpool program for public employees--1977-80. 1970s

    1971
    I-69 Coldwater Rest Area judged best in the nation by U.S. DOT

    1973
    Michigan Department of State Highways becomes the Michigan Department of Highways and Transportation - consolidating all transportation programs into a single agency; State Aeronautics Commission joins department

    1974
    First paved bicycle path along M-99

    1975
    The 25 millionth vehicle crosses the Mackinac Bridge

    1977
    US-31 in Oceana County wins national "most beautiful highway " contest sponsored by U.S. DOT

    MDOT begins a program of recycling - converting old highways to new ones by reusing the materials (asphalt recycling started in 1977, concrete in 1983)

    1978
    Michigan Department of Highways and Transportation becomes the Michigan Department of Transportation

    1977-80
    MDOT develops nation's largest vanpool program for public employees including120 vans and 1,350 people

  • Nation's largest concrete segmental bridge opens, Zilwaukee Bridge carrying I-75 over the Saginaw River.1980s

    1984
    The 50 millionth vehicle crosses the Mackinac Bridge

    World's first unrestricted, public-use microwave landing system begins operating at Wexford County Airport in Cadillac

    1986
    MDOT institutes "smiley-face" road signs in construction zones

    1988
    Nation's largest concrete segmental bridge opens - Zilwaukee Bridge carrying I-75 over the Saginaw River

    MDOT takes computers to construction field offices for the first time when it implements the Construction Project Record Keeping System

  • MDOT Adopt-A-Highway crew with their sign1990s

    1990
    Adopt-A-Highway program inaugurated in Michigan

    1992
    MDOT wins award for nation's first handicapper-accessible vanpool vehicle (Kalamazoo County)

    The last four miles of Michigan's 1,241-mile interstate system is finished when I-69 opens southwest of Lansing

    MDOT develops the first vehicle that can measure the curve and grade of a roadway while traveling at highway speeds

    1993
    MDOT becomes the first agency in the world to automate projects from the construction site through cutting the contractor's check.

    1994
    MDOT dedicates Employee Memorial at Clare Welcome Center on US-127 - a tribute to workers killed while working on Michigan highways

    1995
    MDOT establishes the first Web site hosted by a state agency

    1997
    The opening of the second span of the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron (original span opened in 1938)

    1998
    The 100-millionth vehicle crosses the Mackinac Bridge

  • Work zone sign increases penalties on drivers who injure or kill a road worker 2000's

    2001
    A new satellite-based GPS (used for surveys) is one of the first in the nation

    MDOT tests new de-icing truck with GPS, computers and biodegradable anti-icing material made from corn by-products

    Andy's Law passes - increases penalties on drivers who injure or kill a road worker in a work zone

    2002
    Woodward Avenue - Detroit's main drag - is designated as National Byway by U.S. DOT

    MDOT's FieldManager suite of software wins prestigious 2002 CIO Magazine Enterprise Value Award as one of the top 5 automation systems in the nation.

    2003
    MDOT develops the first vehicle that can measure the underclearance of bridges while traveling at highway speeds

    Gloria J. Jeff named director of MDOT and becomes the first female African-American State Transportation Department director in the nation

    MDOT's FieldManager suite of software is named 2003 Computerworld Honors Laureate as one of the top seven transportation systems in the world.

    2004
    M-6 opens - the new 20-mile Paul B. Henry Freeway in Grand Rapids; Michigan's first operating Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI) at M-6 and Kalamazoo Avenue