Historic alignment information was taken from MnDOT construction logs, highway plans, and right-of-way maps, official highway maps, and historic aerial photos.
U.S. 16 was the predecessor to Interstate 90 across Minnesota's southern tier counties. It strung together the major towns of Luverne, Worthington, Fairmont, Albert Lea, Austin, Spring Valley, Preston, La Crescent, and La Crosse. It was first marked in late 1926 as one of the original U.S. routes, running nationally between Detroit and Yellowstone National Park across Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
U.S. 16 was retired in Minnesota in about 1979 upon the completion of I-90. Today, nearly all of its old route survives close to the I-90 corridor as a string of county roads. In southeastern Minnesota, where I-90 was routed further north to avoid the rugged landscape of the driftless area, the old route has been retained in the trunk highway system as State Highway 16 (Wisconsin has also retained its section of U.S. 16 as a state route with the same number).
Before U.S. 16
The earliest route that approximated what would eventually become U.S. 16 was the Southern Minnesota Airline, one of the motor trails that preceded Minnesota's trunk highway system. The Airline differed from U.S. 16 in its route through southeastern Minnesota between Preston and Hokah, following what are now U.S. 52 and State Highway 44 around the south side of the Root River Valley.
In 1921, State Route 9 was created as part of Minnesota's original trunk highway system, crossing the southern tier counties and connecting each of their county seats (with the exception of Caledonia in Houston County, which was serviced by State Route 44). State Route 9 was later chosen as U.S. 16's route across MInnesota in 1926. U.S. 16 and State Route 9 were marked together until May 4, 1934, when MN 9 was retired to eliminate redundancy in the route system.
U.S. 16 in 1926
When U.S. 16 was first marked in late 1926, its route was still relatively undeveloped. Nearly the entire route was still unpaved, with the exception of a couple of short rural sections and the streets in a few towns. Out of roughly 306 miles of road only 15.41 miles were paved, or about 5%. The unpaved sections had been improved by graveling, with the exception of a new grade between Houston and Hokah that had just been completed in 1926 (see map below for details).
Pavement Details - 1926
18' Standard Design Concrete Pavement
- Near Rushmore - 3.53 miles - completed in 1920
- West of Worthington - 2.61 miles - completed in 1920
- La Crescent to the Wisconsin State Line (with U.S. 61) - 1.87 miles - completed in 1925
Pre-1919 16' Rural Concrete Pavement
- Dike road across the Rush River south of Rushford - 0.77 miles - built in 1912 as the first concrete pavement in the state (source: Winona Republican Herald, Nov 6, 1912)
- Rush River bottoms between Hokah and La Crescent - 0.53 miles - completed in 1914
- Luverne, on Warren St, Kniss Ave, and Main St - 0.97 miles of concrete - completed in 1921
- Worthington, on 10th Ave, 10th St, and 2nd Ave - 0.79 miles of concrete - completed in 1921
- Fairmont - 1.25 miles total
- On Lake Ave (Pioneer Dr to 2nd St) - 0.32 miles of asphalt on concrete - completed in 1926
- On Lake Ave, Main St, and Blue Earth Ave (2nd St to Park St) - 0.27 miles of wood block - completion date unknown
- On Blue Earth Ave (Park St to State St) - 0.66 miles of asphalt on concrete - completed in 1926
- Blue Earth, on Main St - 0.42 miles of wood blocks - completion date unknown
- Albert Lea - 1.4 miles total.
- On Fountain St, Washington Ave, Water St, and Broadway (north of Clark St) - 1.02 miles of wood blocks - completion date unknown
- On Bridge Ave (south of Marshall St) - 0.38 miles of concrete - completed in 1925
- Austin, on Main St and 4th Ave NE - 0.90 miles of brick - completion date unknown
- Spring Valley, on Broadway and Main St (btwn Jefferson St and Section Ave) - 0.25 miles of concrete - completed in 1921
- Preston, on Saint Anthony and Fillmore Streets (btwn Preston and Pleasant Streets) - 0.12 miles of concrete- completed in 1922
Early Route Development, 1926-1940
Major paving and development of U.S. 16's route took place mainly in the 1930's. It wasn't until 1940 that the entire route across Minnesota was paved. Because it was developed later, U.S. 16's route benefited from later construction standards, i.e. the minimum 20' concrete pavement width adopted in 1928 instead of the earlier 18' standard. Concrete was used as the standard pavement type mainly west of Preston, while the route through the hilly driftless area of southeast Minnesota was generally paved with asphalt (see map below for details).
A postcard showing the grade separation of U.S. 16 and U.S. 218 on
Oakland Avenue in Austin as completed in 1939, looking east towards the
2nd St Bridge.
Special features constructed during the 1930's included:
- A bypass of downtown Blue Earth, featuring a grade-seperated interchange with U.S. 169
- Grade separation with city streets on Oakland Avenue on the east side of downtown Austin (see picture, right).
- A four-lane divided highway on the east side of the Cedar River in Austin (the first on U.S. 16 in Minnesota.)
Further Development: 1941-1957
Major developments to U.S. 16's route between 1941 and beginning of construction on I-90 in 1957 were mostly limited to high traffic areas in and around the larger towns. These included (listed from west to east).
- The construction of a four-lane divided downtown bypass at Worthington, first built in 1942 and fully completed in 1948
- A four lane divided section north of downtown Jackson on the section concurrent with U.S. 71
- A four lane divided section on the east side of Albert Lea, constructed between 1952 and 1957
- An upgrade to two one-way streets on the west side of Austin in 1952.
- An upgrade into a four-lane divided highway between La Crescent and the Wisconsin State Line (concurrent with U.S. 61 and U.S. 14) , first constructed in 1941 and modernized in 1952.
Other changes between 1940 and 1956 included the reconstruction or widening of roads built during the 1920's that had become obsolete due to increase traffic volumes and speeds. This work included rebuilding the sections of 18' concrete west of Worthington, plus a total reconstruction of the highway between Rushford and Houston.
Shortening the Route Between Spring Valley and Preston
The biggest change to U.S. 16's route before the construction of I-90 was the shortening of the route between Spring Valley and Preston in Fillmore County. The original route, as legally stipulated in the 1920 constitutional amendment, was required to pass through the towns of Wykoff and Fountain, requiring a rather long jog to the north, followed by another jog back to south along U.S. 52 between Fountain and Preston. The State Legislature had authorized a short-cut to bypass Wykoff and Fountain in 1933 (legislative route 80). However, the existing road taken over as State Route 80 in 1934 didn't provide much of a short-cut; in fact it was longer (17 miles vs. 13), meandering south through Forestville on a primitive gravel road. It was not until 1946 that the Highway Department constructed the envisioned short-cut, cutting the route between Spring Valley and Preston by over 3 miles. U.S. 16 was moved onto the new highway in short order, with Highway 80 taking over the old route through Wykoff and Fountain.
A comparison of U.S. 16's route between Spring Valley and Preston before and after the construction of the new highway in 1946. Note that the new road as shown on the 1948 map is not yet paved - it was first paved in 1948 with asphalt, and later with 22' concrete in 1949.
U.S. 16 in 1957, just as construction was about to begin on I-90.
The Construction of I-90, 1957-1978
U.S. 16's route across Minnesota in 1957 was still almost entirely a rural two-lane highway, with 70% of the length having only 10' traffic lanes (the pre-1940 standard). Only a little over 11 miles, or about 4% had been upgraded into a divided highway, and all of these sections were near major towns, and were thus not expressways. The construction of I-90 between 1957 and 1978 therefore constituted a huge jump in travel standards for motorists crossing southern Minnesota.
The first section to begin construction was a bypass around the north side of Austin, which had originally been planned as the first "free-way" in the state, to be marked as T.H. 252. Engineers ended up revising the plans to incorporate it with I-90 upon learning of possible financing for an Interstate Highway System. (Minnesota Highways, December, 1955). It opened in 1961. A second section of I-90 opened the same year between the South Dakota border and Beaver Creek in Rock County, making it the first section of interstate to cross the Minnesota state line.
The two sections of I-90 completed in 1961 were gradually extended across the state throughout the 1960's and 70's. U.S. 16 was gradually moved onto the new sections of Interstate as they opened. Finally in 1978, the final section of I-90 was completed at Blue Earth with the laying of a golden band of concrete, celebrating the completion of the longest Interstate route in the United States (the gold stripe was an homage to the golden spike used to complete the first transcontinental railroad). U.S. 16's route across Minnesota was retired shortly thereafter, appearing for the last time on an official highway map in 1979, and disappearing on the next map issued in 1981.
U.S. 16 Today:
|Between the South Dakota State Line and the Dexter exit (#193)||193 miles||Closely parallels U.S. 16's old route, but bypasses all of the towns along the way. Only a 3 mile stretch of the eastbound lane south of Dexter is actually built directly on top of the old highway.|
|From I-90 to the Wisconsin State Line||89.5 miles||Through Mower, Fillmore, and Houston Counties in southeastern Minnesota. The entire route is now officially designated the Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway, and touted as a scenic alternate to I-90. One of the most beautiful drives in the state.|
Old U.S. 16: South Dakota State Line to Austin
U.S. 16's old route became the following county roads after the construction of I-90:
In addition, several trunk routes still follow short sections of old 16:
|1.4 miles||At Worthington, between the north and south junctions with County Road 35.|
|0.7 miles||At Worthington, from the north junction with U.S. 59 to the junction with County Road 35 (concurrent with U.S. 59).|
|2.4 miles||At Jackson, between the north and south junctions with County Road 34.|
|2.4 miles||At Sherburn, between the north and south junctions with County Road 26.|
|0.5 miles||At Blue Earth, between the north and south junctions with County Road 16.|
|1.0 miles||Near exit 138 in eastern Faribault County between the north and south junctions with County Road 16.|
|1.2 miles||At Albert Lea, between the junction with U.S. 69/Co Rd 46 and the junction with U.S. 65.|
|2 miles||At Albert Lea, between the junction with MN 13 and the junction with County Road 46.|
|1.6 miles||At Austin, between I-90 and Oakland Avenue.|