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I-94 segment observes 50th anniversary

This photo shows I-94 construction in the neighborhood of the Knapp Hill, just east of the St. Croix County line and Knapp exit (milepost 32). Wisconsin DOT photo1 / 2
The cover of a four page program that was distributed during the dedication of I-94 from Hudson to Eau Claire on Oct. 29, 1959.2 / 2

It was 50 years ago when the segment of Interstate 94 between Hudson and Eau Claire opened for traffic.

The 1959 event was done amid plenty of fanfare, with ribbon cuttings beginning in Hudson at 9 a.m. and a cavalcade continued east with stops for ceremonies at interchanges near Roberts, Hammond, Baldwin, Woodville, Hersey-Wilson, Knapp, Menomonie, Rusk and Elk Mound. Ceremonies in Eau Claire (Hotel Eau Claire) ended the festivities that included a luncheon.

At each stop was a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included state officials, local queens, bands and dignitaries.

The day started in Hudson with a breakfast at the Hudson Elks Club (now The Phipps Center for the Arts) at 7:30 a.m. The breakfast was sponsored by the Hudson Chamber of Commerce. The committee in charge of the breakfast included Hudson businessmen Bjarne Svare, Edward Younger, Arnold Bertelsen, George Madson and Eugene Maloney.

The master of ceremonies at the breakfast was Hudson School Superintendent E.P. Rock and invocation was by then-pastor of Zion Lutheran Church the Rev. Roger Carlson.

The festivities then moved to the ribbon-cutting site at the "Junction of County Trunk Highway U and I-94" -- near what is now Exit 4. The Hudson High School band, under the direction of Ernest McMillan, played at the event. Dignitaries included:

  • H.L. Plummer, chair of the State Highway Commission. He was master of ceremonies.
  • Invocation by the Rev. Gerben Van Putten, then-pastor of the Presbyterian Church.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson.
  • Minnesota Gov. Orville Freeman.
  • Miss Hudson Barbara Blaisdell.

    Although the dedication covered the distance between Eau Claire and Hudson, part of the highway between Menomonie and Eau Claire was not totally completed for the event. The Oct. 29, 1959, edition of the Star-Observer said:

    The 41 miles of four-lane highway between Hudson and Menomonie will be officially open for traffic at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29. The commission has set this hour to avoid any problems involving traffic and the units making up the cavalcade. The remaining mileage between Menomonie and Eau Claire is now partially completed and as rapidly as the weather permits, this section of the road will be completed and it will be opened for traffic sometime before the end of 1959.

    The cavalcade included official cars carrying the governors, state officials, local officials, contractors, representatives from the U.S. Congress and Senate, county board representative and delegations from each community along the route. Also included were four special floats representing agriculture, industry, defense and recreation. Private vehicles were also invited to join the cavalcade.

    I-94 from Hudson to Kenosha is Wisconsin's longest interstate highway segment covering some 334 miles. Construction of I-94 began in 1958.

    The first section of Interstate highway was completed in Wisconsin - a one-mile segment of I-94 near Johnson Creek in Jefferson County.

    As construction progressed, miles were added for the next several years:

  • On Sept. 4, 1958, a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated completion of the seven-mile Goerke's Corners to County SS segment of I-94.
  • Next came the 59-mile segment of I-94 between Eau Claire and Hudson (Oct. 29, 1959), representing (at that time) the longest single section of Interstate highway to be dedicated in the nation.
  • On Dec. 3, 1959, a dedication ceremony celebrated completion of a 24-mile segment of I-94 in Racine and Kenosha counties.
  • On Oct. 6, 1961, officials dedicated a 52-mile segment of I-90/94 between Madison and Wisconsin Dells.
  • On Oct. 30, 1963 a ceremony celebrated completion of a 15-mile stretch of I-94 from downtown Milwaukee to Goerke's Corners in eastern Waukesha County.
  • On Oct. 14, 1964, officials dedicated a 46-mile segment of I-90/94 between Wisconsin Dells and Tomah, providing motorists 142 miles of continuous freeway between Tomah and the Illinois state line.
  • On Oct. 27, 1965 a ceremony dedicated the final sections of I-94 in Jefferson County creating a continuous 78-mile route between Madison and Milwaukee.
  • A 56-mile segment of I-94 between Eau Claire and Black River Falls was completed and dedicated Nov. 9, 1967.
  • The final segment of I-94, from Black River Falls to Tomah, was completed and dedicated Nov. 4, 1969.

    I-94 runs 1,585 miles from Detroit, Mich. to Billings, Mont. (in Billings it hooks into I-90). Today the I-94 segment between Hudson and Eau Claire carries 50,000 cars per day.

    Interstate system

    In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed federal legislation that initiated development of what many consider our nation's greatest public works achievement. The nation's Interstate system began as a massive national defense project, but later evolved into a major economic development force that allowed people and commerce to flow efficiently throughout the country.

    Today, the U.S. Interstate system stretches some 46,775 miles and serves a crucial economic role in supporting the safe and efficient movement of people and commerce.

    Wisconsin has long served as a transportation leader - being the first state to establish a system of numbered state highways, one of the first states to complete construction of its primary interstate routes, and a national trend-setter when it comes to public involvement in building quality transportation facilities while minimizing environmental impacts.

    About 75 percent of Wisconsin's interstate system was built in the decade between 1959 and 1969. Wisconsin has some 743 miles of interstate that cost about $1.5 billion (federal funds covered about $1.3 billion) to build. While accounting for less than 1 percent of the state's 113,700 miles of total roadway, Wisconsin's interstate highways carry almost 18 percent of the state's vehicle miles each year and are among the safest roads to travel.

    In 2005, nearly 40 percent of Wisconsin's industrial parks were located within five miles of an interstate.

    Major interstate routes are designated by one- or two-digit numbers. East/west routes carry even numbers - north/south routes carry odd numbers.

    Three-digit interstate highway numbers represent bypasses or spurs attached to a primary Interstate highway and carry the numbers of the adjacent "parent" Interstate (i.e., I-794 and I-894 in Milwaukee are bypasses of I-94)).

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