Michigan Highways: Since 1997.

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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan

Historic US-33

Historic US-33Jump to: Historical Overview | Year-by-Year History | Additional Information

A relative late-comer in terms of U.S. Highways in Michigan, US-33 was never a very long highway and, while it came close, never even left Berrien County. It entered Michigan from the South Bend, Indiana area and ran through downtown Niles and Berrien Springs before heading to St Joseph where the highway ended for many years. Later, it was extended to the northernmost portion of Berrien County before eventually being scaled back significantly then decommissioned in the state altogether. Altogether, US-33 existed in Michigan from 1938 to 1988 and while fifty years may not seem like that much time, the venerable US-16 only existed in Michigan for 35 years, while US-102 only lasted for 18 months b efore being replaced by US-141!

Historical Overview

As noted above, US-33 only ran a short distance in Michigan, never leaving Berrien County and never longer than approximately 35 miles. While longer than the tiny portion of US-8 in the Upper Peninsula, this highway was also concurrently signed with other routes for much of is existence. In fact, it remains unclear why US-33 was designated in Michigan in the first place! Also interesting to note, every mile of of what had been designated US-33 is still a state trunkline to this day, so decommissioning was not due to a transfer of any segment of roadway to local control.

US-33 debuted in Michigan in the late-1930s, almost a decade after the rest of the U.S. Highway system was created and signed. It was created as an "angling" highway running from Virginia northwesterly through West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana, then into Michigan. US-33 replaced the existing Indiana SR-2 from Fort Wayne to Elkhart, then westerly into South Bend to US-31. At this point, South Bend, Indiana would have made a perfectly logical terminus for the highway. However, for some reason, transportation officials continued US-33 northerly from South Bend via the existing US-31 through Niles, ending in downtown St. Joseph. It could be assumed officials felt Lake Michigan to be a more desirable terminus instead of South Bend, although that hypothesis is purely conjecture. Later in the 1950s, US-31 was proposed to be rerouted via M-140 from Niles northerly through Watervliet to South Haven with the US-31 designation being proposed to follow the former route of US-31 from St Joseph northerly along the lakeshore to a new terminus in South Haven. The easterly bypass plans for the City of Niles which would have facilitated this change were dropped in September of 1956, though, and the extension of US-33 to South Haven would never come to pass.

For nearly 25 years, US-33 ran concurrently with US-31 for its entire length in Michigan, from the state line between South Bend and Niles to its northern terminus in downtown St. Joseph. Only with the coming of the Interstate highway system was US-33 destined to be signed on its own. In the early-1960s, US-33 was extended northerly along US-31 to the Hagar Shore area in northern Berrien County to take over the route for when US-31 is moved over onto the new freeway bypass of the Benton Harbor area. Thus, US-33 is routed solo for the first time in its history in Michigan, although that was not the original intent. When US-31 was first relocated to the I-94 and I-96 (now I-196), the route of US-33 through St Joseph was initially co-signed with a BUS US-31 ("Business US-31") route designation, leaving US-33 completely co-signed with other routes, as it had since it was first commissioned in the state. The BUS US-31 designation, however, was soon removed.

Another 25 years would pass before another major change came to US-33, this time a drastic shortening of the highway scaled it back to US-12 on the south side of Niles. In October 1982, the Reflective Systems Unit of MDOT began reviewing the state trunkline sytem and "discovered a substantial number of dual and some triple routing on both the free access and limited access system." The result of which was forwarded to "the Trunkline Numbering Committee in an attempt to reduce as much of this unnecessary routing as possible in an attempt to avoid driver confusion and save funds." That December, the MDOT Traffic & Safety Division proposed "Eliminate US-33 from the proposed US-31 freeway through St. Joseph up to I-196 and renumber it M-63." In March 1983, the Supervising Engineer of the Reflective Safety Unit concurred and recommended to the Trunkline Numbering Committee those changes be implemented. The change was eventually forwarded to the Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for their approval, which was granted in mid-1986. US-33 route markers from Niles northerly were removed starting that August.

This left the highway as a shadow of its former self, running only 2.83 miles in the state. Another decade passed before the remainder of US-33 in Michigan, as well as the portion through South Bend and Mishawaka, Indiana easterly to Elkhart, was decommissioned. The purpose for this major change was to allow the Indiana Department of Transportation to remove the route of US-33 along the Elkhart–South Bend stretch. This could not be done without MDOT going along with the plan and similarly decommissioning their portion of US-33. This was done in 1998 and the last portion of the highway in Michigan was redesignated as an extension of M-51.

Year-by-Year History

(June 25)
After a joint submission by the State Highway Depts of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia for a "new U.S. numbered route from St. Joseph, Michigan, to Richmond, Michigan, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO, today's AASHTO) informs Michigan State Highway Commission Murray D. Van Wagoner along with the four other commissioners that the route was not approved by the organization. The notification does not indicate the reason for the disapproval, although it is noted "no new routes were approved at this meeting."
(Jan 1)

US-33 is commissioned in Michigan, being routed concurrently with US-31 for its entire route from Indiana to its terminus in downtown St Joseph. Interestingly, US-33 in Michigan would not appear by itself in Michigan for more than 25 years. The state highway department couldn't have possibly known of the coming of I-196 and I-94 way back in the 1930s...
c.1942–45 At some point during World War II, US-33 is extended northerly 9 blocks through downtown St Joseph. Formerly terminating at the southern jct of US-12 & US-31 (cnr Niles Ave & Main St), US-33 now ends at the cnr of Main St & Ship St, where US-12 & US-31 turn easterly toward downtown Benton Harbor. The reason for this extension is unknown, although it may have had something to do with the State Highway Dept's plans for the new Blossomland Bridge, to be constructed across the St Joseph River at the northern end of Main St immediately following the War.
(Apr 23)
The US-31/US-33 bridge spanning the St Joseph River at Berrien Springs in central Berrien Co suddenly collapses into the river taking a grocery truck with it. Plans are immediately formulated by the State Highway Dept to replace the collapsed span with a new, temporary bridge while arrangements for a permanent replacement are formulated.
(May 20)
After enduring 26 days of isolation, Berrien Springs is again connected to the eastern portion of Berrien Co via a temporary bridge over the St Joseph River, replacing the previous span which suddenly collapsed into the river in late April.
1950 The concurrent US-33 designation with US-12/US-31 in downtown St Joseph is scaled back 9 blocks to end at the jct of US-12/US-31/US-33 (Niles Ave & Main St), as it had prior to the War.
1960 (Nov) The State Highway Dept announces the northerly extension of the US-33 route designation concurrently with US-31 northerly from St Joseph for approximately 10 miles to a new northern terminus (for US-33) at Hagar Shore Rd northwest of Coloma, while US-31 continues northerly along its existing route toward South Haven. This is done, according to State Highway Dept officials, in preparation for the rerouting of US-31 along the new I-96 (present-day I-196) freeway under construction from I-94 northerly.
1962 With the opening of the new I-96/US-31 freeway in Berrien Co northeast of Benton Harbor, the US-31 designation is routed northerly from Scottdale along what had been M-139 to I-94, then northeasterly via I-94 to the new freeway and northerly to the end of the freeway at Hagar Shores Rd (present-day Exit 7). The former US-31/US-33 through St Joseph between Scottdale and Hagar Shores Rd becomes solely US-33. The last half-mile of US-33 is signed concurrently with US-31 along Hagar Shores Rd in a "wrong-way concurrency:" US-31 NORTH and US-33 SOUTH run westerly along Hagar Shores while US-31 SOUTH and US-33 NORTH run easterly.
(Sept 30)
Updated! 2023-10 The I-96/US-31 freeway (present-day I-196/US-31) is extended north of Hagar Shores Rd, and the former concurrent US-31/US-33 routing via Hagar Shores becomes solely US-33.
1982 (Oct)

1983 (Mar)
New! 2023-04 In October 1982, some MDOT staffers internally propose terminating US-33 at Niles, thereby eliminating the concurrent US-31/US-33 route from there through Berrien Springs to the Saint Joseph/Benton Harbor area, where the non-concurrent segment would be re-designated as M-63. By March 1983, others within the department concur and the termation of US-33 at Niles is eventually forwarded to AASHTO for approval. (See Historical Overview section above for details.)
(June 9)
At its regular meeting in State College, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Route Numbering Subcommittee of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approves a request from the Michigan Dept of Transportation (MDOT) to eliminate the portion of US-33 from its northern terminus at I-196/US-31 at Exit 7 north of Coloma southerly through Benton Harbor, Saint Joseph, and Berrien Springs to a new terminus at US-12 south of Niles. Actual changes to the route of US-33 in the field will take place later in the summer.
(Aug 25)
MDOT makes the physical changes in the field corresponding to the approval it gained in June from AASHTO to eliminate the majority of US-33 in the state. From its previous northern terminus at I-196/US-31 at Exit 7 north of Coloma southerly into Benton Harbor and Saint Joseph, then southeasterly along Niles Ave to jct US-31 in Scottdale, the former US-33 is redesignated as M-63. From Scottdale southeasterly through Berrien Springs to jct BUS US-12 in downtown Niles, the concurrent US-31/US-33 has its US-33 route markers removed and becomes just US-31. US-33 remains signed along its existing route from BUS US-12 in downtown Niles southerly into Indiana south of Niles... interestingly in conflict with the approval it gained from AASHTO in June to truncate the route to "U.S. Route 12 south of Niles."
New! 2023-10 According to reports from MDOT and site visitors, the US-33 designation at Niles is shortened further from its year-long northern terminus in downtown Niles to a new terminus at US-12 south of town. AASHTO had approved US-33's truncation back to US-12 south of Niles the previous June, but MDOT likely waited the extra year to remove the US-33 markers between downtown and US-12 to complete the process of relocating the BUS US-12 designation off the E Main St alignment and onto Eleventh St, which would replace the US-33 designation there.
(Apr 25)
The Standing Committee on U.S. Route Numbering of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) officially approves the request by the states of Michigan and Indiana for the "Elimination of U.S. Route 33" on this day at their scheduled meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. The text of the request reads: "Eliminate the U.S. Route 33 designation between the present terminus at the intersection of U.S. Route 12 south of Niles, Michigan, and the intersection with U.S. Route 20 in Elkhart, Indiana."
1998 (Apr) Updated! 2023-10 In early April, US-33—the fifth US Highway designation to disappear from Michigan (the others were US-16, US-25, US-102 and US-112)—is decommissioned when all remaining US-33 route markers are removed during the second week of April and replaced with M-51 signs. M-51 is extended southerly from its former terminus in downtown Niles to replace the BUS US-31 designation along E Front St and S Eleventh St to the US-12 bypass and then replaces US-33 from there to the Indiana state line where the newly-designated Indiana SR-933 begins. southerly from downtown Niles to the Indiana state line to meet the newly-designated Indiana SR-933. The route marker removal takes place almost exactly one year to the day after official approval to do so was granted by AASHTO.


Additional Information

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