Michigan Highways: Since 1997.

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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan
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I-296 Route Marker
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Southern Terminus:    Jct US-131 & I-196/Gerald R Ford Frwy in downtown Grand Rapids
Northern Terminus:    Jct US-131 & I-96/M-37 in Walker, north of downtown Grand Rapids
Length: 3.189 miles – according to MDOT data
3.43 miles – according to Route Log and Finder List – Interstate Highways, FHWA
Maps: Route Map of I-296
Notes: I-296 is a little-known, unsigned Interstate highway connecting I-96 with I-196 in downtown Grand Rapids. One of the "original Interstates" from the initial Interstate plans of the late-1950s, I-296 was built simply as a part of the already-proposed Grand Rapids Expressway, which traces its roots back to plans in the late-1940s. In fact, by the time the I-296/US-131 freeway was opened to traffic, US-131 itself had been completed from M-43 at Kalamazoo northerly to downtown Grand Rapids—a distance of more than 45 miles! The I-296/US-131 freeway completed the Grand Rapids Expressway north through the city to I-96 on the north side of town. From that point, the US-131 freeway would push on northerly over the next few decades past Cadillac. 
  I-296 was co-signed with US-131 from the time the freeway was completed until 1980, when all I-296 route markers were removed from the freeway, leaving it signed solely as US-131. This was done to minimize motorist confusion, having a second route designation appear for only a 3.4-mile stretch on a US-131 freeway stretching from south of Kalamazoo to the North Country. I-296 is still an active designation and the 3.43 miles of US-131 from I-196 to I-96 is still an Interstate highway, even though it is not signed as such in the field.
  From an MDOT/FHWA report prepared in 1981 to follow-up on a freeway signing project along I-96 north of Grand Rapids, the following information on the "un-signing" of I-296 is included, confirming what had been previously surmised regarding the removal of I-296 signs:

"Review of the route marking system, as part of the Positive Guidance project, indicated that the I-296 markers were confusing and unnecessary. The red, white, and blue Interstate shields for I-96 and I-296 were easily confused. In addition, the previous signing system included shields for US-131 NORTH, US-131 SOUTH, and M-37. The five route markers may have resulted in an information "overload"; elimination of the I-296 markers resulted in a simpler signing system."
"I-296 formerly was coincident with US-131 for a three-mile segment between I-96 and I-196. Since US-131 is the major north/south freeway in the area, the I-296 designation served no useful purpose other than to designate an Interstate routing. With concurrence from the FHWA and AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials), the I-296 designation was eliminated from all road signs, as well as from the official transportation map. However, the three-mile segment of US-131 remains as part of the official Interstate system even though it is not so designated on the signs."

  New! 2023-11 In the mid/late-1950s prior to the designation of the various Interstate routes around the state, the northern portion of the "Grand Rapids Expressway" between downtown Grand Rapids and the proposed "US-16 Relocation" (present-day I-96) was referred to as "US-16 Business, Relocation" for a short perood of time. This implies the planned designation for what later became I-296/US-131 and is today just US-131 was to have been part of the BUS US-16 route at Grand Rapids once completed. The existing BUS US-16 route along Monroe Ave, Leonard St and Remembrance Rd would have then been transferred to local control.
  "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. On these maps, I-296 is shown exactly as constructed—construction on the freeway was already well underway at the time the maps were being prepared and its completion was just two years in the future, thus the maps would logically show the route as it was planned.
History: 1961 (July 21) – The Michigan State Highway Dept awards a $36,744 signing contract along the I-296/US-131 freeway in Grand Rapids from Sixth St just north of I-96 (present-day I-196) downtown northerly to the north city limit near Ann St.
  1962 (Dec 17, 10:00 am) – The entire 3.4-mile long I-296/US-131 freeway route from the proposed junction with I-96 (present-day I-196) in downtown Grand Rapids northerly to an interchange with I-196/US-16 (present-day I-96) north of the city is completed and opened to traffic.
  1962 (Dec 28) – Eleven days after opening to traffic, the 3.4-mile portion of I-296/US-131 between downtown Grand Rapids and I-196/US-16 (present-day I-96) north of the city is officially established as a state trunkline highway.
  1965 (Nov 8) – A Bureau of Public Roads (BPR—today's Federal Highway Administration, or FHWA) ceremonial tree planting along I-296/US-131 in Grand Rapids makes national news when short blurbs referring to the event even show up in the New York Daily News and the Arizona Daily Star! The event is believed to be one of the first ever BPR highway beautification efforts, in this case, the tree planted on a rainy Monday is the first of 197 meant to screen four junkyards from the view of passing motorists.
  1969 (Oct 29) – The concurrent M-37 designation is removed from the I-296/US-131 freeway through Grand Rapids and transferred to M-44/East Beltline (from M-11/28th St to I-96) and I-96 (from M-44/East Beltline to Alpine Ave).
  1979 (Oct 28) – At its regular meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, the U.S. Route Numbering Subcommittee of the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approves a request from the Michigan Dept of State Highways & Transportation to "eliminate the I-296 signing between I-96 and I-196 in Grand Rapids" but to "retain [the] route as a part of the Interstate system."
  1979 (Dec 3) – Official approval is granted by the FHWA Associate Administrator for Planning in Washington DC for MDOT to remove all I-296 route markers from signs along the highway (and on intersecting routes) and from all public road maps. However, federal officials request "that all official correspondence, fiscal documents, project numbering, and other records should continue to refer to the highway as I-296."
  1980 – The last Official Michigan Highway Map with I-296 indicated along US-131 in Grand Rapids between I-196/Gerald R Ford Frwy and I-96/M-37 is the 1979 edition; all references to I-296 are removed on the 1980 map. Sources indicate the I-296 route markers were removed in 1980, in part due to a freeway signage upgrade project along US-131 in the Grand Rapids area. I-296 remains as an unsigned Interstate routing from this time forward.
Controlled Access: The entire length of I-296 is constructed as freeway.
NHS: The entire length of I-296 is on the National Highway System.
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