Michigan Highways: Since 1997.

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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan
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M-121 Route Marker On to Next Route:
Former M-122
Western Terminus:    BL I-196 at cnr Byron Rd & E Main Ave just east of Chicago Dr on the east side of Zeeland
Eastern Terminus:    Ottawa/Kent Co line on Chicago Dr, in the midst of the I-196/Gerald R Ford Frwy & Chicago Dr interchange (Exit 69) at Grandville
Length: 12.752 miles
Maps: Route Map of M-121
Notes: While the present M-121 is Michigan's newer state trunkline designations, it runs along a route which has been on the trunkline system since 1922—a portion of which actually dates to 1913! It also uses a designation which has occupied two other routings over the years. M-121 originally existed in the eastern Upper Peninsula from 1931 to 1935, then was designated along a route in the Flint area from 1935 to 2003. Meanwhle, a route which had been part of M-21 from 1926 until the completion of I-196 in the area in 1974, initally Chicago Dr was a two-lane highway running parallel and to the south of the Pere Marqutte Railway (later C&O Railroad, then Chessie System, now CSX Transportation), but in the 1950s the State Highway Department added a second set of lanes to the south, converting the route into a four-lane divided highway. From 1974 until 2007, Chicago Dr from Zeeland to Jenison was an unsigned state trunkline designated internally by MDOT as OLD M-21.
  Sources note MDOT had wanted to turn Chicago Dr between Zeeland and Jenison back to local control since being superceeded by I-196/Gerald R Ford Frwy within two miles to the south in the 1970s. However, mounting traffic volumes and the fact that the Ottawa Co Road Commission was reticent to take back such a major highway that had several deficient sections. The original westbound lanes—especially west of Hudsonville—had never been completely rebuilt since the 1920s, while the newer eastbound lanes built in the 1950s were of much higher construction. MDOT had reportedly wanted to simply close the westbound lanes, reverting Chicago Dr back to a two-lane highway. Local officials were understandably unhappy with this plan. In 2007, MDOT announced a new plan to tack an additional two lanes (three at some major intersections) to the north side of the higher-quality eastbound lanes, resulting in a 4-5 lane highway between Zeeland and Hudsonville. From Hudsonville easterly to Jenison, Chicago Dr will remain a four-lane divided highway. It was also at this time the state decided to re-sign the highway with a trunkline designation: M-121. The $15-17 million reconstruction project was scheduled for the 2010-2011 timeframe, depending on funding, but ultimately never came to fruition. There is no indication this overall plan is anything MDOT still wishes to pursue, however, most intersections along M-121/Chicago Dr have been converted to use the Michigan Left and some intersections have been closed.
  In its previous iteration, the M-121 designation ran via Bristol Rd in the Flint area for its entire length and primarily served to provide access to Bishop International Airport from I-75/US-23 and I-69. At one time, M-121 stretched easterly to end at M-54/Dort Hwy, but was scaled back to I-75/US-23 first, then was completely "downloaded" in 2003. The last length of this second M-121 iteration was 2.10 miles.
  In the 1990s, MDOT completely overhauled the previous iteraiton of M-121 between I-69 and I-75/US-23, first relocating it north of the new Bishop International Airport terminal complex, then later in the decade realigning the highway once again via a new overpass spanning the busy CN Rail line just west of the airport.
  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 one major change to the (then-existing) route of M-121 during that timeframe: complete removal. M-121 was shown in its entirety as a "Turnback Route" to be transferred to county control, as at that time, it ran along Bristol Rd from M-78/Miller Rd easterly to US-10/Dort Hwy (present-day M-54) south of Flint in Genesee Co. Although it took over forty years, the entirety of the second iteration of M-121 was eventually turned back to local control as recommended in 1960.
  The M-121 route along Chicago Dr in Ottawa Co is rather near-and-dear to the heart of the MichiganHighways.org webmaster, Christopher Bessert. Here's why:
"Sometime around the year 2005 or 2006, an MDOT planner that I had been regularly conversing with regarding state trunkline comings and goings, including the by-then long-concluded Rationalization Process, e-mailed me to let me know the Department was planning on not only improving some neglected portions of then-unsigned OLD M-21/Chicago Dr between Zeeland and Grandville, but they were also planning on signing it as a full-blown state highway route again! Apparently not only was Ottawa County (and the City of Hudsonville) pretty much completely unwilling to accept control over what they believed was a highway of statewide importance, the increasing amount of traffic on Chicago Dr led MDOT to the conclusion that Chicago Dr—even though it ran parallel to another, "higher-quality" trunkline facility (I-196) which had replaced it in 1974—was here to stay, that it was no longer a jurisdictional transfer candidate and would, therefore, be signed as a standard state trunkline highway route again. The MDOT planner threw out a couple potential route designations to see what I thought, but I immediately suggested the M-121 designation be used for three reasons: 1) Chicago Dr had been part of M-21 from 1927 to 1974, nearly fifty years; 2) it had been internally designated as OLD M-21 from 1974 onward (and a number of commercial maps continued to show it as "M-21" anyway); and 3) the M-121 designation at Flint had been freed-up four years prior with that route's decommissioning and turnback to county control. The planner really liked my suggestion, took it back to the "numbering committee" at MDOT and soon after, "my M-121" became a reality. And that's how I actually numbered a state highway in Michigan..."
History: 1931 (Jan 12, May 6) – A new direct route for US-2 from the present-day jct of H-63/Mackinac Trail & M-134 in Mackinac Co to Dafter in Chippewa Co is established as a state trunkline, but not yet constructed. The present route of US-2 easterly from Mackinac Tr to M-5 (present-day M-129) north of Cedarville and northerly via present-day M-129 through Pickford to Sault Ste Marie retains the US-2 designation for the time being.
  1932 (Nov 2) Updated 2024-06 – Construction on the new Mackinac Trail routing of US-2 via Rudyard is complete and the US-2 designation is transferred to that route. The former route is designated M-121 in its entirety, which becomes a loop route off US-2 between northern Mackinac Co and Sault Ste Marie. (As an aside, state trunkline access to Cedarville is gained from M-121 via M-5 from the cnr of Rockview & Meridian Rds southerly to Cedarville.)
  1935 (Jan 7) – A major realigning and reconfiguring of the state trunklines in eastern Mackinac & Chippewa Cos occurs at this time. The highway which had been designated M-121 now turns southerly from the cnr of St Ignace & Three Mile Rds via Three Mile into Hessel, then easterly via State Rd, southerly via Blind Line Rd and easterly again into Cedarville and M-5. At this time, the US-2-to-Cedarville trunkline is redesignated from M-121 to M-4 and the new M-4 designation is continued easterly along the trunkline route under construction between Cedarville and M-48 west of DeTour Village. Simultaneously, the portion of M-121 from the jct of M-5 north of Cedarville northerly to Sault Ste Marie is redesignated as an extension of M-5. Thus, the first iteration of M-121 comes to a close.
  1935 (Jan 7) – The same day many of the above Eastern U.P. changes are made, the 6.5 miles of Bristol Rd in Genesee Co from M-78/Miller Rd on the west to US-10/Dort Hwy on the east becomes a state trunkline and is designated M-121. This route, which does not come in contact with M-21 but run parallel to it three miles to the south, first appears on official highway maps in 1936.
  1941 – The final portion of gravel-surfaced M-121, from M-78/Miller Rd to US-23/Fenton Rd, is paved.
  1969 (Nov 25) – With the completion and opening of future M-78/Chevrolet Frwy (present-day I-69) between Swartz Creek and I-75/US-10/US-23, the route of M-121 is truncated at the new freeway interchange and the portion between there and M-78/Miller Rd will be cancelled as a state trunkline in approximately two months time.
  1970 (Jan 30) – The 0.595-mile segment of former M-121 along Bristol Rd between the new Chevrolet Frwy interchange (future M-78, present I-69) and existing M-78/Miller Rd between Swartz Creek and Flint, which had its M-121 markers removed two months prior, is officially cancelled as a state trunkline highway and transferred to county control.
  1971 (Nov 10–12) – When the M-21 designation is added to the M-78/Chevrolet Frwy between Lennon and Flint, the routes of M-21 and M-121 atually come in contact with each other for the first time—after being with two miles of each other for 34 years!
  1988 (Feb 25) Updated 2023-12 – The 3.593-mile segment of M-121/Bristol Rd in the Flint area from I-75/US-23 interchange (at Exit 116) easterly to M-54/Dort Hwy is cancelled as a state trunkline route and tranferred to county control. The portion of M-121 along Bristol Rd from I-69 at Exit 131 easterly passing Bishop International Airport and ending at I-75/US-23 is unaffected and remains a state trunkline route.
  1992 (Oct) – An major terminal expansion project at Flint's Bishop International Airport also results in the temporary relocation of M-121/Bristol Rd as part of a $20 million project to reroute M-121/Bristol Rd to the north to create room for the new terminal building. The temporary roadway is now open to traffic and will become the service drive for the terminal once the permanent M-121/Bristol Rd bypass roadway is complete. The former route of M-121/Bristol Rd is largely obliterated.
  1993 (July) – The permanent M-121/Bristol Rd bypass route for the Bishop Airport terminal expansion project to the north to create room for the new terminal building and its parking facilities is now complete and open to traffic. The realignment begins at Torrey Rd on the east and returns back to the original highway alignment just west of the new terminal. The temporary roadway in use since 1992 is reconfigured as an access roadway and service drive for the new terminal.
  1999 (Oct) Updated 2023-10 – A further realignment of M-121/Bristol Rd beginning at the end of the 1993 realignment just west of the Bishop Airport terminal angling southwesterly back to the existing alignment of Bristol Rd just east of the CN Railway tracks is completed and opened to traffic. Formerly running south of the Koegel Meats facility, M-121/Bristol Rd now runs to the north, or behind, Koegel's. The former route of M-121 east of Koegel's is mostly obliterated an airport runway extension, while the remainder of the former alignment becomes a private service road. MDOT entered into an agreement with the Genesee Co Road Commission to have the GCRC perform the preliminary engineering, construction engineering and inspection services on this project as the ultimate outcome is to transfer control of the remainder of M-121 to county control once the project is completed.
  2000 (Jun 30) Updated 2023-10 – The final link in the M-121/Bristol Rd realignment/overpass project in the Bishop Airport area is completed when the new overpass spanning the Canadian National Railway line is opened to traffic on June 30. Even though the MDOT–GCRC contract which dates to 1997 specifies the County take over the remainder of M-121 "upon completion of construction," it takes over two years for that to happen.
  2003 (Oct 1) Updated 2023-10 – In an effort dating back to 1997 (or earlier), MDOT cancels the remaining 2.3 miles of M-121 along Bristol Rd from I-69 at Exit 131 to I-75/US-23 at Exit 116 southwest of Flint and transfers jurisdiction of the roadway to the County. This ends the 68-year existence of the second iteration of M-121.
Present M-121:
1974 (Dec 8) – Approximately 34 miles of M-21 are lopped off the western end with the completion of I-196 between Holland and Grandville. The former route of M-21 from US-31 at Holland to Main Ave east of Zeeland becomes a part of a new BL I-196. The portion of Chicago Dr from Zeeland to I-196 at Exit 69 in Grandville becomes an unsigned state trunkline as OLD M-21. The former BUS M-21 between I-196 and the Grandville/Wyoming city limit is also retained as an unsigned state trunkline route, while the remaining portion of BUS M-21 from that point to US-131 becomes a new BS I-196.
  1982 (Aug 31) – The portion of the former BUS M-21 along Chicago Dr from the ebd I-196 off-ramp (at Exit 69) in Grandville easterly to Wilson Ave downtown is turned back to local control.
  1982 (Oct 20) – The segment of the former BUS M-21/Chicago Dr from the ebd I-196 off ramp in Grandville (at Exit 69) westerly to the Kent/Ottawa Co line is turned back to local control.
  1985 (Dec 1) – The portion of the former BUS M-21/Chicago Dr from downtown Grandville at Wilson Ave northeasterly to the Grandville/Wyoming city limit is turned back to local control.
  2007 (Aug)MDOT officials announce plans to improve the portion of OLD M-21/Chicago Dr between Zeeland and Hudsonville. Also at this time, a new posted route designation is revealed for Chicago Dr from Main Ave at Zeeland to the Ottawa/Kent Co line at Jenison and Grandville: M-121. As of December 2007, M-121 route markers have not been posted, however.
  2008 (Jan) – Chicago Dr between Zeeland and the Ottawa/Kent Co line officially becomes M-121 in the field as MDOT posts M-121 route markers along the route as well as along I-196/Gerald R Ford Frwy at Exit 69 A-B. (Interestingly, MDOT errs by signing Exit 69A as "M-121 EAST – Chicago Dr", even though M-121 terminates in the middle of the interchange and does not continue east of the freeway. The erroneous signage is rectified during a replacement project in 2018; Exit 69A now reads simply "Chicago Dr EAST".)
Controlled Access: No portion of M-121 exists as freeway or expressway.
NHS: The portion of M-121 from 32nd Ave in Hudsonville to its eastern terminus at I-196 on the Ottawa/Kent Co line at Grandville is on the National Highway System (NHS).
Memorial Highway: Disabled American Veterans Highway – from MDOT: "Highway M-121 in Genesee County shall be known as the 'Disabled American Veterans Highway'. Named in honor of disabled American veterans, or veterans who were discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability." (Note: This memorial designation is still on the legislative books for the previous routing of M-121 in Genesee Co that existed from 1935–2003.)
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