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M-81 Route Marker On to Next Route:
Western Terminus:    M-13 on the north side of Saginaw (at cnr N Washington Ave & Veterans Memorial Pkwy)
Eastern Terminus:    M-53 four miles east of Cass City (at cnr of Cass City Rd & Van Dyke Rd)
Length: 45.676 miles
Maps: Route Map of M-81
Notes: Prior to the construction of I-675 through Saginaw, M-81 continued westerly from its current western terminus via M-13 into downtown Saginaw, then westerly via Genesee, Davenport and State Sts (portions of which are today's M-58) to end at M-47 west of Saginaw.
  In "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, MSHD staff recommended just one change to the route of M-81 during that timeframe:
  • Turning back the segment of US-23/M-81 along Washington Ave in Saginaw from 6th St into downtown at Genesee St to local control, likely also truncating the route of M-81 back to its intitial meeting with US-23 (to be redesignated as M-13 within the year), its current western terminus. Thus, the prediction for the future view of M-81 in 1960 is essentially identical to the present-day highway.
  • Additionally, MSHD planners anticipated leaving US-10 on its existing (in 1960) routing from Bridgeport through Saginaw and Freeland and on toward Midland instead of routing it along the I-75/US-23 freeway to Bay City and then westerly along the new M-20 freeway to Midland. This meant under the 1960 plans, M-81 would have never been extended across the Saginaw River to M-47 west of Saginaw as it eventually was for a decade from 1961 to 1971.
History: 1919 (Sept 4) – A 4.8-mile long state trunkline route is officially determined in Tuscola Co along W Caro Rd (the present-day alignment of M-81) beginning at jct M-31 at the cnr of W Caro Rd & Bradleyville Rd (3 miles south of Gilford) and continuing due easterly to a terminus at Ringle Rd in Watrousville. The new trunkline route is given the designation of M-81.
  1920 (Mar 5) – A 14.35-mile state trunkline route in Bay and Tuscola Cos is added to the highwyay system beginning at jct M-31 (cnr of Fairgrove Rd & Bradleyville Rd) two miles north of Gilford and continuing westerly along present-day M-138 via Fairgrove Rd (Tuscola Co) and Munger Rd (Bay Co) through Munger, then northwesterly along Tuscola Rd (present-day M-15) toward Bay City, then westerly along 22nd St (aka Youngs Ditch Rd/Kosciuszko Ave) to a terminus at the Bay City city limit at Trumbull St. The signed route of M-81 continues westerly into Bay City on city-maintained Kosciuszko Ave to a terminus at M-10 (later US-23, now M-13). Additionally, the 5 miles of M-31 along Bradleyville Rd between jct M-81 west at Fairgrove Rd and jct M-81 east at W Caro Rd is concurrently designated as part of M-81 as well. This segment of highway had been earmarked as part of the route of M-81 and mapped as such for a year, but is now officially part of the trunkline system.
  1920–21 – Official highway maps indicate the signed—but not official—route of M-81 is extended on the east from Watrousville in central Tuscola Co easterly and northeasterly into Caro, then southerly via Mertz Rd (present-day M-24) to M-38 1½ miles west of downtown Mayville in southern Tuscola Co. While the route from Watrousville to Caro would officially become a state trunkline highway within a year or so, the Caro-to-Mayville route would not be determined as a state highway about a decade (first as M-36, later as M-24). It is unclear how this segment of M-81 may have been signed in the field—it may have been a "marked and maintained" route.
  1921 (Aug 15) – A major easterly extension of M-81 occurs when 24.8 miles of state trunkline mileage is determined in Tuscola and Sanilac Cos beginning at Watrousville and continuing easterly and northeasterly along Caro Rd, through the village of Caro (along State St), then continuing via Caro Rd to Cass City Rd, then easterly along Cass City Rd, through Cass City (on Main St), and continuing easterly via Cass City Rd into Sanilac Co to a terminus at M-53/Van Dyke Rd, 3.8 miles east of downtown Cass City. This segment of highway had been earmarked and mapped as part of the route of M-81 since 1919, but is now officially part of the trunkline system.
  1923 (Nov 21) – The 1.3 miles of Tuscola Rd (from Youngs Ditch Rd/22nd St) northwesterly to Trumbull St, then northerly along Trumbull St to Center Ave is transferred to state control and officially determined as a state trunkline route, like a rerouting of M-81, which would then turn westerly to follow Center Ave into downtown Bay City to its terminus at M-10. The previous route of M-81 along 22nd St from Tuscola Rd westerly to Trumbull St is retained as a state trunkline route temporarily.
  1923 (Dec 10) – Approximately three weeks after the 1.3 miles of Tuscola Rd and Trumbull St from Youngs Ditch Rd/22nd St northerly to Center Ave was transferred to state control, that segment is cancelled as a state trunkline, but immediately re-established along the exact same route with the exact same route mileage. It is not clear why this simultaneous cancellation and re-determination occurs, although the 0.5 mile of 22nd St between Tuscola Rd and Trumbull St is turned back to county control, meaning M-81 now definitely continues northerly along Tuscola Rd-Trumbull St to Center Ave, continuing westerly along Center Ave into downtown Bay City.
  1925 (Sept 9) – Several trunkline establishments and realignments occur across the Thumb region in 1925. Beginning at the southern of the two M-31 & M-81 junctions in western Tuscola Co, M-81 now continues westerly from Bradleyville Rd along the route of M-31 (W Caro Rd) to Reese. West of Reese, M-81 continues on a newly-established state trunkline route via Washington Rd to Findley St on the eastern Saginaw city limit. (Between Reese and Saginaw, M-31 had formerly used Wadsworth Rd, which is turned back to county control on this date with the designation of M-81 along parallel Washington Rd.) M-81 extends to a new terminus in downtown Saginaw, running concurrently with M-10 (to be designated as US-23 in a year). The former segment of M-31/M-81 along Bradleyville Rd between W Caro Rd northerly through Gilford to Fairgrove Rd is redesignated as M-84 (which also supplants the M-31 designation easterly and northeasterly through Fairgrove, Akron and Unionville). The former M-81 route from along Fairgrove and Munger Rds through into Bay Co and through Munger remains a state highway, but is not noted on official maps with any route designation for the time being. (This would become part of M-138 in the future.) What had been M-81 from Munger Rd northwesterly into Bay City along Tuscola Rd (present-day M-15) is signed as M-24, although the segment south of Munger Rd into Saginaw Co will not officially be transferred to state control for another seven years.
  1926 (Mar 8) – A 1.1 mile segment of the route of M-81 in Saginaw along Washington Ave from the eastern city limit at Findley St westerly to 6th St (where it meets with the official, but yet unbuilt, route of M-10 [US-23]) is transferred from city to state control. The last 1.3 miles of M-10/M-81 into downtown Saginaw continues to run along city-maintained streets.
  1928 (Jan 30) – A minor realignment occurs between Wahjamega and Caro in central Tuscola Co adjacent to the Caro Airport. Formerly turning northeasterly and northerly at Chambers Rd to follow Walk Rd to Dixon Rd and Dixon Rd from Walk Rd easterly back to present-day M-81, this former 1.1-mile long alignment is turned back to local control while the new 1.0-mile direct alignment is officially determined as a trunkline route.
  1930 (Nov 22) – The 1.1 mile segment of US-23/M-81 along Washington Ave from 6th St southwesterly into downtown Saginaw to Johnson St is officially transferred from city to state control.
  1931 (June 14) – Act 131 of 1931—the Dykstra Act—is passed allowing the State Highway Dept to take over control of state highways running into and through incorporated cities, thereby officially incorporating them as state trunkline highways. The two-block (0.2 mile) portion of US-23/M-81 traveling via Washington Ave in Saginaw from Johnson St to jct US-10 at E Genesee Ave along formerly city-controlled streets is assumed into the state trunkline system.
  1939 (July 13) – Another minor realignment occurs west of Cass City in Tuscola Co when a new 0.4-mile long sweeping curve from E Caro Rd to Cass City Rd is constructed and assumed into the state trunkline system. The former route of E Caro Rd is obliterated, while the portion of Cass City Rd west of the new sweeping curve is returned to county control.
  1942 (Jan 28) – M-81 is realigned onto a new 1.07-mile state trunkline route in central Tuscola Co beginning at Colwood Rd and continuing northeasterly and northerly back to the existing alignment at Gerou Rd. The former 1.2-mile route along Colwood Rd (Caro Rd to George Rd) and George Rd (Colwood Rd to M-81) is turned back to county control.
  1947 – The final 4.78-mile stretch of gravel-surfaced M-81—from Gerou Rd southwest of Ellington to Green Rd east of Elmwood in Tuscola Co—is paved.
  1954 (Jan 4) – Instead of M-81 running currently with US-23 for the last 2.0 miles of its route in Saginaw, the US-23 concurrency now runs from the newly-completed US-23 eastern Saginaw bypass westerly 1.1 mile to 18th St (Veteran's Memorial Pkwy) where it turns northerly toward Bay City on its existing route. The formerly concurrent US-23/M-81 from there into downtown Saginaw now becomes BUS US-23/M-81.
  1968 (Nov 29) – The route of BL I-75/M-13/M-81 in northeastern Saginaw is realigned to bypass an expanding General Motors Powertrain facility between 10th St and 20th (Casimir) St. The former 0.59-mile route along existing Washington Ave is partly obliterated and partly closed to traffic, while a new divided boulevard (0.60 miles ebd and 0.55 mile wbd) is constructed bypassing to the south.
  1960 (Dec 5–8) Updated 2023-08 – A 14.93-mile segment of I-75/US-23 freeway is completed and opened to traffic beginning at jct US-23 & M-81 northeast of Saginaw then northwesterly over the Saginaw River via the new four-lane bascule Zilwaukee Bridge and on toward Bay City. The US-10 designation is rerouted from Bridgeport to run northerly with US-23 along the "Saginaw East Belt" (1949–54) to M-81, then concurrently with I-75 and US-23 across the Zilwaukee Bridge to an interchange with the M-20 freeway west of Bay City, where US-10 turns westerly to replace M-20 from there toward Midland.
      These developments cause three changes to the route of M-81, one more significant than the others. First, the six-year US-23/M-81 concurrency between the "Saginaw East Belt" bypass and 18th St (Veteran's Memorial Pkwy) reverts back to just M-81. Second, the former BUS US-23/M-81 along Washington Ave between Genesee Ave and 18th St (Veteran's Memorial Pkwy) is now co-signed with BL I-75 and M-13, instead. Third, M-81 itself is extended westerly along the former route of US-10 between downtown Saginaw and M-47/Midland Rd west of the city. The officially established route of the former US-10 (now becoming M-81) heads west from Washington Ave via Genesee Ave, across the Saginaw River, continuing for 0.8 mile to Bond St, northerly one block via Bond St, then westerly via State St for another 4.5 miles to Midland Rd, where M-47 coming from the south now continues northerly toward Midland, supplanting the US-10 designation along that portion.
      The actual route of M-81 signed in the field, however differs from the officially-established route. First, by the time the US-10 route markers from downtown Saginaw westerly are replaced by M-81 route markers, a new downtown one-way system is put in place (See the February 15, 1961 entry below). After passing through the downtown area, wbd M-81 supplants the US-10 route along State St to Madison [Carolina] St, then northerly one block on Madison [Carolina] St, turning westerly again via a newly completed Davenport Ave route for 1.41 miles to where it merges back into State St at Ethel Ave at the western edge of Saginaw. (The 1.41 mile segment of wbd M-81 along Davenport Ave from Carolina St to its merge back into State St at Ethel Ave is an officially-established trunkline route.) Ebd M-81 supplants US-10 traveling easterly along State St to Madison [Carolina] St where it performs a "bump" with its wbd counterpart which features wbd traffic on a one-way street directly approaching the ebd traffic at the same intersection on the same street! Ebd M-81 then turns southerly one block on Madison [Carolina] St to W Genesee Ave, then easterly again along W Genesee into downtown. The portions of the M-81 routing through Saginaw which are not officially established as part of the trunkline system are "marked-and-maintained" segments of state highway, although still technically under city jurisdiction.
  1961 (Feb 15) New! 2023-08 – As the final US-10 route markers in downtown Saginaw are swtiched out for M-81 signs (due to the December 1960 rerouting of US-10 north to Bay City then west to Midland and its removal from Saginaw), the route of US-10–turned–M-81 is modified to additional one-way streets in Saginaw's central business district. While the arrangement had been discussed for a couple years as being a rerouting for US-10 through downtown, by the time the reconfiguration is implemented, it is part of the M-81 route instead of US-10.
      Prior to the highway route reconfigurations due to the opening of I-75 around Saginaw and US-10's realignment via the Bay City area, US-10 had entered Saginaw from the southeast via E Genesee Ave, passed through the downtown core, crossed the Saginaw River on the Genesee Ave Bridge, the split into a one-way pair using State St wbd and W Genesee Ave ebd between Michigan Ave and Madison [Carolina] St. As of February 15, trunkline traffic is removed from Genesee Ave through downtown with wbd traffic turning northerly along 2nd Ave (present-day Roosevelt Austin Ave) four blocks to Johnson St, then westerly along Johnson St and across the river via the Johnson Street Bridge and onto Davenport Ave before dropping back down to State St via Schaefer St. Ebd trunkline traffic through downtown continues too use Genesee Ave and the Genesee Ave Bridge to cross the river, but then turns southerly along two blocks of Water St, then easterly again for eight blocks via Janes Ave back to Genesee Ave at 2nd Ave. (Genesee Ave through downtown is turned into a one-way street with additional parking for downtown merchants.)
      With M-81 extended to the west to take over US-10's route from downtown Saginaw west to M-47, it uses the western portion of this new downtown one-way configuration. After running concurrently with M-13/BL I-75 along E Washington Ave into downtown, wbd M-81 traffic turns westerly along Johnson St and Davenport Ave, south one block on Shaefer St, then westerly along the former US-10 route via State St. Ebd M-81 traffic continues to enter downtown from the west along Genesee Ave, but then turns southerly on Water St to Janes Ave, easterly on Janes Ave for one block to M-13/Washington Ave before heading northeasterly out of downtown.
      Interestingly, though, no official jurisdictional changes take place with this downtown Saginaw one-way reconfiguration. Genesee Ave remains the officially established "east-west" trunkline route through downtown, while 2nd Ave, Johnson St–Davenport Ave, Water St and Janes Ave all remain technically under city jurisdiction, but are "marked-and-maintained" trunkline routes for the time being.
  1966 (May 19) – The 1.07 miles of Davenport Ave in northern Saginaw from Michigan Ave (where wbd M-81 now turns southerly for one block along Michigan to State St) westerly to Carolina St (where wbd M-81 returns back to Davenport after travelling along State St) is transferred from city to state control and officially made part of the wbd alignment of M-81. This eliminates four 90° turns on the westbound route of M-81 through Saginaw. State St between Michigan Ave and Carolina St—formerly the wbd M-81 route—remains a state trunkline highway, although unsigned since the ebd M-81 route continues to turn southerly off State St at Carolina St for one block to W Genesee St and runs easterly to the Saginaw River downtown. (Carolina St and W Genesee Ave are not officially established trunkline highway segments, but are rather "marked and maintained" routes.)
  1971 (Oct 22) – The I-675 loop through downtown Saginaw is completed and opened to traffic, causing several other state trunkline changes in the city as well. In the case of M-81, the officially-designated segment of M-81 along Genesee Ave from M-13/Washington Ave westerly across the Saginaw River to Michigan Ave and westerly seven more blocks to Bond St and northerly along Bond for one block to State St is turned back to city control. Simultaneously, the seven blocks of State St from Bond St easterly to Michigan Ave are transferred from city to state control and established as the new ebd alignment of M-81. The segments of city streets which had been "marked and maintained" as part of M-81—specificially, Madison [Carolina] St from State St to W Genesee Ave, W Genesee Ave from Madison [Carolina] Ave easterly to Bond St as well as W Genesee Ave from Michigan Ave to Water St, Water St from Genesee to Janes Ave (all part of the signed route for M-81 ebd), and Johnson St–Davenport Ave from M-13/Washington Ave westerly to Michigan Ave (part of the signed route for M-81 wbd) all remain as city streets, but no longer "marked and maintained" as part of a state trunkline route.
      As this effectively would make M-81 a discontinuous route, the MDSH truncates the route of M-81 at its jct with M-13 at Veterans Memorial Pkwy in the northeastern part of Saginaw (removing the concurrent M-13/M-81 designation along Washington Ave) and assigns the rest of the remaining highway along State St and Davenport Ave from Michigan Ave westerly to M-47 a new trunkline designation: M-58.
Controlled Access: No portion of M-81 is freeway or expressway.
NHS: The portion of M-81 from its western terminus at M-13 in Saginaw easterly to I-75/US-23 at Exit 151 is on the National Highway System (NHS). (1.2 miles) (This portion of M-81 was added to the NHS in 2012 with the passage of the MAP-21 funding and authorization bill.)
Memorial Highways:  The following Memorial Highway designations have been officially assigned to parts of M-81 by the Michigan Legislature:
  • Staff Sergeant Eugene H. E. Alex Memorial Highway – "The portion of highway M-81 in Saginaw County beginning at the intersection with North Gera Road and extending east to the intersection with South Van Buren Road in Tuscola County..." From the Michigan Legislature: "Staff Sergeant Alex joined the United States Army in 1996. In 2005, Staff Sergeant Alex was deployed to Iraq to fight in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He suffered fatal injuries on August 30, 2006, after his squadron encountered enemy forces in a small-arms skirmish in Baghdad, Iraq."
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Highway – "Highway M-81 in Tuscola County beginning at the intersection of highway M-81 and Van Geisen Road and continuing southwest to the intersection of highway M-81 and Chambers Road..." From MDOT: "The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW, or simply Veterans of Foreign Wars) is an American War Veterans organization headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri. The Veterans of Foreign Wars was established by James C. Putnam on September 29, 1899, in Columbus, Ohio. The organization's membership consists of veterans who, as soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen served the United States in wars, campaigns, and expeditions on foreign soil or in hostile waters."
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