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Interstate 39

 

Interstate 39 is fully signed along its shared alignment with Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 between Rockford, Illinois, and Portage, Wisconsin. In this photo, southbound Interstate 39 and eastbound Interstate 90 split from eastbound Interstate 94. While both Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 serve Chicago, through traffic from Madison is encouraged to use Interstate 39 south and Interstate 90 east. Interstate 39 south is also signed with a control city of Chicago, even though it splits from Interstate 90 at Rockford and travels due south toward Bloomington-Normal and Interstate 55. Through traffic to downstate Illinois and St. Louis should use Interstate 39 south. Photo taken by Chris Lokken (07/01/06).

Routing

Interstate 39 runs north-south through Illinois and Wisconsin parallel to the U.S. 51 corridor, and it serves as a bypass for traffic around the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. Direct connections to these cities are made via Interstate 80 and the Western Interstate 88 to Chicago and Interstate 43 to Milwaukee. Along its journey, Interstate 39 passes through La Salle, Rockford, Madison, and Wausau.

Currently, Interstate 39 begins at its junction with Interstate 55 in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, and ends at its junction with Wisconsin 29 east near Wausau, Wisconsin. The Interstate may be extended in both directions from its current termini in the future.

Parallel U.S. Routes

Interstate 39 has replaced U.S. 51 for almost its entire length, except for the section it shares with Interstate 90 between Rockford and Portage. With the possible exception of the Wisconsin 78 segment near Portage, Interstate 39 is cosigned with at least one other route for its entire length. It shares part of the longest triple multiplex in the country, where Interstate 39, Interstate 90, and Interstate 94 share pavement between Madison and Portage.

Planned Improvements

The Cherry Valley Interchange project, which reconstructs the connection between Interstate 90 (Jane Addams Memorial [Northwest] Tollway) and Interstate 39 in Rockford, is currently underway. The project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2009. This project was made possible as a result of the Illinois governor's tollway improvement plan announced in 2005. Plans call for an upgrade to the interchange including high-speed ramps to connect Interstate 39 and Interstate 90 in all directions, starting with "through" connections for both directions of Interstate 39. An additional project widens Interstate 39 and U.S. 20 south of Rockford through the Illinois Department of Transportation. Through these projects, high-speed freeway connections will replace the existing trumpet interchange at the junction of Interstate 39 and Interstate 90.3, 4, 5

In addition, plans call for Interstate 39-90 (Jane Addams Memorial [Northwest] Tollway) between Rockford and the Illinois-Wisconsin State Line to be widened to six lanes. Bridge widening in southern Wisconsin between the state line and Madison started in 2003, with hopes of expanding the freeway to six lanes eventually. For more information, see the official Illinois Tollway Project Page: Newburg Road to Rockton Road - Reconstruct and Widen.

Future Aspirations

It is possible that Interstate 39 would be extended north from Wausau to Merrill along the U.S. 51 freeway, which is Interstate standard, but it is not signed as Interstate as of January 2004. Craig Holl wrote Wisconsin DOT to determine whether current plans call for upgrading this stretch of U.S. 51 into Interstate 39. WisDOT Highway 29/51 Corridor Douglas Ross wrote in October 2002, "The DOT is currently using design standards that will satisfy requirements for an Interstate Highway, to develop plans for the reconstruction of the segment of USH 51/ STH 29 between Fox Glove Road and Bridge Street. To the best of my knowledge, the Department has no plans at this time to formally request that I-39 be extended; however, if the request is made in the future this segment of roadway should meet the design standard requirements after the reconstruction is completed." However, a major project began on U.S. 51 around Wausau in 2004 that will continue through 2012 to improve traffic flow and upgrade the U.S. 51 freeway. The reports in this area are hinting that the construction will be done to Interstate standards and will eventually lead to the extension of Interstate 39 north of the East Wisconsin 29 interchange to Merrill.1

In addition, very long-range plans call for upgrades to U.S. 51 south of Bloomington. This might result in a future southerly extension of Interstate 39 to Decatur and possibly as far south as Interstate 57. No formal plans for such a route currently exist, however.

History

When commissioned in 1984, Interstate 39 was only constructed and signed between Former Illinois 5 (East-West Tollway/Interstate 88) and U.S. 20 at Rockford. The section between Illinois 5 and Interstate 80 was opened in 1986. In December 1987, another segment of Interstate 39 was opened from Interstate 80 across the Illinois River, south to Old U.S. 51 (now Illinois 251). Between 1987 and 1992, the section of Interstate 39 between Illinois 251 and Bloomington-Normal was constructed. AASHTO approved the extension of Interstate 39 from Rockford, Illinois north to Wisconsin 29 in Wausau, Wisconsin, on October 22, 1993. This approval included overlaps on Interstate 90 and Interstate 94 between Rockford and Portage.

By the late 1990s, Interstate 39 had been extended both south to Interstate 55 at Bloomington-Normal and north along a triplex with Interstates 90 and 94 in Wisconsin to the U.S. 51 freeway between Portage and Wausau. Construction on Interstate 39 was initiated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it was partially open as early as 1984. The following chronology shows the construction timeline of Interstate 39, including information provided by Steve Sarver and Robb Haukohl:3

  • 1984 - Interstate 39 from U.S. 20 near Rockford to Illinois 5 near Rochelle was opened.
  • 1986 - Interstate 39 extended from Illinois 5 to Interstate 80.
  • December 1987 - the section from Interstate 80 south, across the Illinois River, was opened and its southern terminus was Illinois 251 (old U.S. 51). It was not open from Illinois 251 to Illinois 71. At one mile in length, the bridge is the longest in Illinois. It is named the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge.
  • Late 1988 - construction began on the interchange with Interstate 55 in Bloomington
  • Summer of 1990 - Interstate 55 was reconstructed around Normal to handle an additional lane of traffic. The existing interchange of U.S. 51 and Interstate 55 was closed completely and then reconstructed with its present configuration. Bridge work continued for the overpasses between Normal and Oglesby. The section from Oglesby to Normal contains a unique style of overpass construction that allowed for the elimination of the center pier. U.S. 51 was rerouted onto the Interstate 55/74 bypass around Bloomington-Normal, and the main route through town was designated as Business U.S. 51 (AASHTO action taken to establish Business U.S. 51 on June 2, 1990.)
  • Summer/Fall of 1991 - segments of the new highway were opened south to Illinois 18.
  • Spring/Summer 1992 - more segments of the road were opened to traffic
  • Fall 1992 - final segment of Interstate 39 opened, completing the entire freeway from Rockford to Bloomington. Illinois 251 extends on most of the old U.S. 51; some minor rerouting was necessary because the new four-lane highway was built on top of the two-lane road. It is interesting to note that Illinois 251 terminates just north of Normal, while a four-lane "Business U.S. 51" was constructed over the old U.S. 51 for several miles north of Normal. There is a gap of several miles between the two. It is not known why Illinois 251 and Business U.S. 51 were not connected in some manner.
  • October 22, 1993 - Interstate 39 extension to Wisconsin approved by AASHTO.
  • Mid-1995 - rest areas were opened on both sides of Interstate 39 between Rockford and LaSalle (Interstate 80). Prior to this time, "phantom exits" were built to illustrate where the actual ramps would be. Also, before the rest areas opened, "Truck Pull-Off Areas" existed on both sides of the highway several miles north of the rest areas. These are now closed and have since been fenced off to prevent access.
  • 1998-1999 - Interstate 39 extended again, this time into Wisconsin. Signage was placed first on the U.S. 51 freeway from Portage north to Wausau, and co-signage with Interstates 90 and 94 was added thereafter. The 1999 Rand McNally was the first atlas to show Interstate 39 along these routes through Illinois and Wisconsin.
  • 2003-2004 - At the Interstate 39/90 interchange in Rockford (Cherry Valley Interchange), the southbound toll was eliminated in December 2003, and the toll booth was torn down. The northbound toll was eliminated in November 2004, but the toll booth remains.
  • April 17, 2003 - E.J. 'Zeke' Giorgi Highway designated along Interstate 39 between Interstate 88 (Ronald Reagan East-West Tollway) and the Illinois-Wisconsin State Line. Representative Zeke Giorgi pushed for the construction of Interstate 39 through Northern Illinois.2

Signage of Interstate 39-90-94

Chris Lokken provides some details on how well the section of Interstate 39-90-94 (one of only two sections of Interstate Highway that is signed with three routes). On all of Interstate 39's solo section and its overlap with U.S. 51, Interstate 39 is signed well on the mainline and on its onramps. "I traveled Interstate 39 north of Portage back in 2000, taking the road up to its interchange with Wisconsin 73 southeast of Wisconsin Rapids. When getting back on the highway to travel back home, Interstate 39 was mentioned on Wisconsin 73. So at least that area is signed as well as it should be. I also traveled Interstate 39 briefly north of its split from Interstates 90 and 94 last July. While the section between that split and U.S. 51 is just Interstate 39, it is signed with trailblazers for U.S. 51 in the northbound direction and Wisconsin 78 in the southbound direction (and maybe Interstate 90 and 94 as well)."

As for its overlap with Interstate 90 and 94, the highway is not as well signed. On the mainline itself, it is signed well. "However, in the summer of 2003, I traveled to Wisconsin Dells, and on the way back stopped for dinner at a fast food restaurant. When I approached the freeway (at that point it was for Interstates 39/90/94) to get back on, all of the signs mentioned only Interstates 90 and 94 (39 was omitted). Another example I could mention is the photos of Interstate 43's southern terminus, where only Interstate 90 is mentioned except on Interstates 39 and 90's mainline. I have not been in that area in a long time (since 2000 I believe), and I am not sure if the signs have changed since those photos were taken."

Heading westbound on Interstate 94 as the freeway approaches Interstates 39 and 90, Interstate 39 is also omitted on guide signage to a certain extent. The first mentioning of the interchange is similar to Interstate 43's southern terminus (a mileage sign that says "Hwy 90") and is three miles away from the interchange. Next, there is a two-mile guide sign that mentions Interstate 90 and Wisconsin 30, but not Interstate 39. The one-mile guide sign comes in the form of a diagrammatical overhead, and Interstate 39 is finally mentioned and mentioned correctly. However, the next sign bridge omits Interstate 39 northbound (it still shows Interstate 39 southbound as overlapped with Interstate 90 eastbound however, which is very strange). The last sign bridges show Interstate 39 correctly.

Other examples of this problem occur within the city of Madison itself. Along U.S. 151/East Washington Avenue northbound, north of downtown, there are occasional trailblazers pointing the way to the interstates. However, these trailblazers only mention Interstate 90 and 94, omitting 39. This holds true at least as far north as the interchange with Wisconsin 30. Wisconsin 30 displays Interstate 39 correctly on all of its overhead guide signage but not on the trailblazer signage. Likewise, at U.S. 151's interchange with Interstates 39/90/94, Interstate 39 is displayed correctly.

The city of Madison came up with an interesting way to point the way to the interstates from East Towne Mall, which is located just south of U.S. 151's interchange with the interstate triplex. Instead of having three interstate shields with all three numbers on them, Madison erected trailblazers consisting of the usual "TO" banner, but then only one interstate shield. The very weird thing about this shield is that there are NO numbers in it; instead, it is just a blank interstate shield (without a state name but does have the word "Interstate" within the shield.6

Southern Terminus - Interstate 55 - Normal, Illinois
Perspective from Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 south
Southbound Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 approach Exit 1, Junction Interstate 55. Interstate 74 is situated one mile to the west via Interstate 55/U.S. 51 south, therefore this panel advises motorists to the connection. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
Interstate 39 south ends at its interchange with Interstate 55. The END shield can be seen in the background of the above photograph on the right-hand ramp. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
Perspective from Interstate 55 south
First guide signage on Interstate 55 south for Exit 164/Interstate 39/U.S. 51 north - Rockford. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
This sign bridge, also taken on Interstate 55 south, indicates to travelers that U.S. 51 southbound continues on freeways via Interstate 55 outside of Bloomington-Normal. Meanwhile traffic for Interstate 39/U.S. 51 north has one mile to prepare for the ramp departure. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
The ramps for Interstate 39/U.S. 51 north and Business U.S. 51 south utilize the same collector/distributor roadway. They are spaced far apart, and thus receive their own exit numbers via Interstate 55 south. Photos taken by Brian Dowd (06/02) and Jeff Royston (11/01).
As seen from the Interstate 55 southbound mainline, Exit 165 for Business U.S. 51 south departs from the adjacent collector-distributor lanes. Interstate 39/U.S. 51 see their ramp just ahead. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
Another view of southbound Interstate 55 at the northbound ramp to Interstate 39 and U.S. 51. Note that the left-hand panel now includes Interstate 74 east and the associated control city of Indianapolis. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
Two more views of the one-half mile sign bridge on Interstate 55 south for Interstate 39/U.S. 51. Rockford, the original northern terminus of Interstate 39, is 120 miles from this stretch of Interstate 55. Although U.S. 51 used to route through downtown Bloomington, it now bypasses the city to the west along Interstate 55 and 74. It resumes its original alignment south of the city, and travels 40 miles south of this point to Decatur. Photos taken by Jeff Royston (11/01).
Perspective from Interstate 55/U.S. 51 north and Interstate 74 west
Interstate 55/U.S. 51 northbound/Interstate 74 westbound sign bridge for the upcoming split of the two Interstates at Exit 163. Interstate 74 resumes its northwesterly pathway toward Peoria and ultimately the western terminus of Interstate 74 at the Quad Cities. This marks the first appearance of Interstate 39 signage from the south. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (08/16/02).
Only one lane is allocated for Interstate 74 west from Interstate 55/U.S. 51 northbound. This button copy signage indicates to motorists that the marriage between Interstate 55 and U.S. 51 is about to come to a close, with the U.S. route entering Interstate 39 north of Normal. Note the IDOT preference of displaying only one downward arrow for Interstate 55 thru-traffic. Photos taken by Brian Dowd (06/02 and 08/16/02).
One-half mile sign bridge on Interstate 55 north for Interstate 39/U.S. 51. This assembly is located on Interstate 55 as it curves to the east of Interstate 74 north of Normal. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
Before Interstate 55 completes its easterly turn north of Normal-Bloomington after the split from Interstate 74, the exit ramp for Interstate 39/U.S. 51 departs northbound. One-half mile ahead is Exit 165 for downtown Bloomington/Business U.S. 51. The city of Rockford is located 120 miles to the north. Photos taken by Brian Dowd (06/02 and 08/16/02).
Interstate 74 sits in close proximity to the southern terminus of Interstate 39. The merge of Interstate 55 with Interstate 74 east is only two miles to the west. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
Perspective from Interstate 74 west
The signage for Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 appears on westbound Interstate 74 before the freeway merges with Interstate 55. Use Interstate 55-74 north to Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 north. To U.S. 51 south, use Interstate 55 south. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (08/06/05).
Perspective from Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 north
Northbound Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 shields. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
Interstate 39 begins on Interstate 55 in Bloomington-Normal, just north of the Interstate 55/74 junction. U.S. 51 follows Interstate 39 from northbound Interstate 55 onto northbound Interstate 39. The first overhead along northbound Interstate 39 indicates "Begin Interstate 39 North" signage. This is a standard practice in the Land of Lincoln. Interestingly, the text below reads "Bloomington-Normal to Wisconsin," which indicates the endpoints of the highway in Illinois in lieu of the control city of Rockford. After this sign, the next exit is Business U.S. 51 southbound. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
This sign, at one of the first exits off Interstate 39 and U.S. 51, shows that the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) feels it is faster to take Interstate 39 south to Interstate 55 to get to Chicago rather than go north on Interstate 39 to either Interstate 80 or Interstate 88. Photo by Jeff Royston (11/01).
The northbound beginning of Interstate 39, as it merges with U.S. 51 from this southbound Interstate 55 scene. Interstate 74 ties into Interstate 55/U.S. 51 south within one mile. Photo taken by Brian Dowd (06/02).
Views of Interstate 39 in Illinois
This photograph shows the unique bridge architecture along Interstate 39 in Illinois. The photo taken by Craig Holl (1998).
View eastbound along U.S. 52 at the Interstate 39 overpass. Every interchange along Interstate 39 in Illinois uses the big green signs with both the route shields and guide cities together on the same sign, as shown in this photo. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
View southbound from the U.S. 52 overpass over Interstate 39/U.S. 51 near Troy Grove, Illinois. This picture was taken prior to the growing season, so the corn is not as dominant as it would be in the late summer. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
This map shows the Interstate 39/U.S. 20 and Interstate 39/Interstate 90 (U.S. 20/U.S. 51) interchanges on the south side of Rockford. Currently, the Interstate 39/90 interchange is a rather tight trumpet interchange. There are frequent traffic tie-ups there, and there is a $0.15 automated exact change toll plaza [note - this may have increased since 1997!] with two booths in either direction. It's been that way since the U.S. 20 bypass was built in the 1960s. As for the Interstate 39/U.S. 20 Bypass interchange, it's an incomplete cloverleaf -- as if there were plans to somehow extend Interstate 39 north of U.S. 20 for some reason. Northbound/southbound Interstate 39 bend off and merge in directly with eastbound/westbound U.S. 20, and the ramp from northbound Interstate 39 to westbound U.S. 20 goes directly north, over U.S. 20, then cloverleaves around. The merge area for Interstate 39 southbound and the ramp from eastbound U.S. 20 is extra-extra-wide, and appears to be the merge area for one or two more ramps that aren't there yet. The identical pattern is used for the Interstate 474/Interstate 74 interchange south of Peoria and the Interstate 255/Interstate 270 interchange northeast of St. Louis. Map created by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
View of Interstate 90 eastbound at the Interstate 39 interchange. In late April 1998, the tollway authority had started construction on a widening project. This picture (taken by Robb Haukohl) shows that their apparent intention was to widen Interstate 90 southbound to three lanes for about one-quarter mile short of the interchange, probably to add more deceleration room and backup space. This project is now complete. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
At the point where Interstate 39 southbound splits from southeastbound Northwest Tollway (Interstate 90), here is a picture of the Interstate 39/U.S. 20/U.S. 51 turn-off sign along eastbound Interstate 90 should be. Apparently the Illinois Tollway Authority just used the old U.S. 20 sign and tacked a green tab to the top of the sign with an Interstate 39 shield. It's been that way ever since Interstate 39 was posted. Heading northbound, there used to be an END Interstate 39 shield mounted on a lightpole, but it has been taken down. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
View of Interstate 39 in Wisconsin
Robb Haukohl indicates that Wisconsin DOT upgraded the interchange at Interstate 39 and Interstate 90/94 south of Portage in 1993-1994. There is now a flyover ramp from southbound Interstate 39 to eastbound Interstate 90-94, which replaces the cloverleaf, which was frequently congested. This picture shows the northbound approach to the Interstate 39 interchange just south of Portage along Interstate 39/90/94. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
This map of the interchange at the Interstate 39/90/94 junction in Portage compares how the interchange looked in the 1960s with how it looks today. The interchange reconstruction work was completed in 1993-1994. In the map of the Interstate 39/Interstate 90/Interstate 94 'Cascade' interchange near Portage, the eastbound Interstate 90/94 ramp to northbound Interstate 39 is separated from the northbound Wisconsin 78 travel lanes with a 'Jersey' barrier until after the intersection to turn from northbound Wisconsin 78 to westbound Interstate 90/94. This construction may be to maintain Interstate standards through the interchange. Map created by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
The signs on northbound Wisconsin 78 at the Interstate 39 interchange also show Interstate 39 as multiplexed with Interstate 90/94. This is the sign bank just short of the first ramp. Six shields in a row? This may be a record. Also, the black-bordered shields are, in fact, one continuous sign! The direction parts on top and the arrows below are attached later. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
This picture was taken in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Wisconsin 30 overpass over U.S. 51 (Stoughton Rd.), looking south. Note the mysterious blank spot on the sign over the left turn lanes next to the "To Interstate 90/94" emblems, right where the Interstate 39 emblem should go. The shield was added by 2000. Photo taken by Robb Haukohl (04/11/98).
Interstate 39 between Interstate 90/94 and U.S. 51 north of Portage is posted either as "Interstate 39/To U.S. 51" in the northbound lane, and "Interstate 39/To Wisconsin 78" in the southbound lane ... or just at "Interstate 39." The first photos shows the first such sign, immediately after turning off Interstate 90/94, and just before the Cascade Mountain Road interchange a scant quarter-mile north. A bit further north is the second sign, found between the exits for Wisconsin 33 and Wisconsin 16. Photos taken by Robb Haukohl (04/98) and Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Northern Terminus - Wisconsin 29 - Wausau, Wisconsin
Perspective from Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 north
This is the last Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 north reassurance shield assembly, right around Milepost 182. It's just north of the overpass at Maple Ridge Road, which is the first one that gets a warning about low clearance, at 14 feet, 6 inches. Photo taken by Jay Maynard (12/02).
The reassurance sign in the median after Exit 185 indicates only U.S. 51, which seems to indicate that Interstate 39 is coming to its end. This sign is likely gone as of 2007. Photos taken by Jay Maynard (12/02).
Crossing the Wisconsin River on Interstate 39/U.S. 51 north, the bridge is undergoing reconstruction as part of the bridge replacement program along this stretch of Interstate 39 and U.S. 51. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
After crossing the Wisconsin River, this mileage sign shows that Wisconsin 29 is only 1 1/2 miles further north. Only 1 1/2 miles of Interstate 39 remain, as U.S. 51 prepares to serve the city of Wausau. The next three exits are Junction Wisconsin 29 east, Junction County Route N (Rib Mountain Drive), and Junction County Route NN (North Mountain Road). Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
The one-mile guide sign for Wisconsin 29 is in the form of this diagrammatical overhead. Wisconsin 29 west joins U.S. 51 north to serve Wausau before venturing further west. Note the local destination cities (Wausau and Weston) and long-distance control cities (Chippewa Falls [just north of Eau Claire] and Green Bay). Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Interstate 39 ends as the ramp departs for Wisconsin 29 east to Weston, Shawano, and Green Bay. Pictured here is the Interstate 39 ends shield assembly (foreground) and the sign bridge at the actual split for the terminal interchange (somewhat in the background). This interchange was reconstructed; compare to the old configuration in the next photo. Photos taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Going back five years, before the interchange was reconstructed, these photos show Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 north at Exit 187, Junction Eastbound Wisconsin 29 to Green Bay. This exit marks the northern terminus of Interstate 39. Photos taken by Jay Maynard (12/02).
This is a view of the interchange between Interstate 39, U.S. 51, and Wisconsin 29 southwest of Wausau from the U.S. 51 north travel lanes. Wisconsin 29 west merges in ahead. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
The first reassurance shield assembly north of Wisconsin 29's merge onto US 51 north reveals no Interstate 39 shield. This is because Interstate 39 does not currently extend this far north. Just ahead, the freeway is being reconstructed. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
This photo, which is along northbound U.S. 51 in Wausau approaching Exit 188, is just north of the northern terminus of Interstate 39. The overhead signs no longer mention Interstate 39. Wisconsin 29 is cosigned with U.S. 51 for a short distance north of Exit 187. Photo taken by Kevin Robokoff (8/00).
Perspective from Wisconsin 29 west
Just west of Marathon County Route Q near the town of Ringle, Wisconsin 29 west encounters the first sign it is going to intersect the northern end of Interstate 39/U.S. 51. Of course, this mileage sign omits Interstate 39 and instead opts for the "older" route of U.S. 51. This is 12 miles east of that interchange, just outside of Wausau. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Now near the city of Weston, where Wisconsin 29 west interchanges with Marathon County Route J is the second mileage sign of the interchange with U.S. 51 (and the northern terminus of Interstate 39, which has yet to be mentioned). This sign is eight miles east of the interchange. Wisconsin 29 is a full freeway from Ringle west to Interstate 39/U.S. 51 and is up to at least expressway standards from Wausau east to just west of Green Bay. It carries a 65 miles per hour speed limit, but has several at-grade intersections with few interchanges, while providing a very scenic drive. It is full freeway around the city of Shawano. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Interstate 39 finally makes an appearance on guide signage on Wisconsin 29 west at this two-mile guide sign located just east of the interchange with Business U.S. 51. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
This "low bridges" warning sign is found throughout the Wausau area for Interstate 39/U.S. 51 south. Road work is currently underway to improve these height clearances as well as resurface the roadway. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
This diagrammatical overhead represents the one mile guide sign for the northern terminus of Interstate 39 from Wisconsin 29 west. For those wondering where Interstate 39 ends (and for those who thought that Interstate 39 continued north into Merrill), this sign proves that at least as of April 14, 2007, Interstate 39 ends at the point where Wisconsin 29 merges with U.S. 51 to the southwest of Wausau. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Wisconsin 29 west crosses the Wisconsin River prior to interchanging with the northern terminus of Interstate 39. The Wausau area is quite scenic with plenty of trees and hills, including Rib Mountain, located just west of this interchange. Remnants of original concrete paving covered by asphalt percolate to the surface as Wisconsin 29 continues west. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
A third westbound lane opens on the left to provide an exit only lane to Interstate 39/U.S. 51 south towards Stevens Point and Madison along Wisconsin 29 west. Wisconsin 29 west prepares to merge onto northbound U.S. 51 to serve Wausau. Interstate 39, however, does not continue north of this point, yet. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Another warning sign for low bridges on Interstate 39/US 51 south (seven miles of low overpasses). Ongoing roadwork will one day alleviate this problem. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Wisconsin 29 west reaches the northern terminus of Interstate 39. Exit here to head to Stevens Point, Plover, Wisconsin Rapids, Westfield, and eventually Portage and Interstates 90 and 94, prior to Madison. For traffic heading north, a construction filled stretch of freeway leads US 51 north and Wisconsin 29 west towards Wausau, Merrill, and Eau Claire. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
This is the view from the ramp from Wisconsin 29 west to Interstate 39/US 51 south. The hill in the background is believed to be Rib Mountain. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Perspective from U.S. 51 south and Wisconsin 29 east
Southbound Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 approaches Exit 195, some eight miles north of the northern terminus of Interstate 39 (at Exit 187). This is the first mention of Interstate 39 along southbound U.S. 51. The exit in the distance is for U.S. 51 Business/Marathon County Road K, which was U.S. 51 prior to the construction of the present freeway. Photo taken by Jay Maynard (12/02).
This bridge over the Rib River, along with three more like it over various streets, is probably what's not up to Interstate standard on U.S. 51 between Exit 187 and Exit 211 in Merrill. Note the almost complete lack of shoulder. The rest of the road is no different from what's south of the terminus. Photo taken by Jay Maynard (12/02).
Continuing south into Wausau, Wisconsin 29 east prepares to split from U.S. 51 south. This is the first guide sign for Interstate 39's northern terminus (aside from the previous bridge warning sign). Interstate 39 itself is not mentioned. This is within the interchange with Rib Mountain Road. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
The onramp from Rib Mountain Road forms the exit only lane for Wisconsin 29 east toward Green Bay. Wisconsin 29 provides a fast path to Green Bay from Wausau. Note that Interstate 39 still has not been mentioned. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Wisconsin 29 east parts ways with U.S. 51 south at Exit 187, and Interstate 39 finally makes an appearance at its northern terminus. Interstate 39 is fully signed from here south. Note the use of local (Weston, Stevens Point) and long distance (Green Bay, Madison) control cities. Note the sign changes between 2002 and 2007. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07) and Jay Maynard (12/02).
Perspective from Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 south
The first Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 south reassurance shields are posted at Milepost 185. The first interchange for Interstate 39/U.S. 51 south is with Business U.S. 51 for the Wausau suburbs of Rothschild and Schofield. Photos taken by Jay Maynard (12/02) and Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Soon thereafter, Interstate 39 and U.S. 51 south cross the Wisconsin River and leave the Wausau metro area en route to Stevens Point, Portage, and Madison. Photo taken by Chris Lokken and Sage Sulenta (04/14/07).
Potential Future Northern Terminus - Wisconsin County Route K - Merrill, Wisconsin
Perspective from U.S. 51 north
Northbound on the future Interstate 39 at Exit 211 for County K (Merrill). At this point, the U.S. 51 freeway is no longer Interstate standard. It is unclear when the Interstate 39 designation will be extended north to this exit. Photo taken by Kevin Robokoff (8/00).

Sources:

  1. Eric Conn, personal email ("Wisconsin 29"), Tuesday, November 30, 2004.
  2. Madigan to dedicate Giorgi Highway today, Rockford Register-Star, April 17, 2003 by Chuck Sweeny.
  3. Robb Haukohl, personal email ("I-39 Updates"), Wednesday, March 30, 2005.
  4. Todd Applegate, personal email ("Update concerning I-39/U.S. 20 in Rockford, IL Area"), Wednesday, May 18, 2005.
  5. Dan Hobson, personal email ("New toll rates on IL Tollways"), Saturday, May 14, 2005.
  6. Chris Lokken, personal email ("Some information on Wisconsin's interstates"), Friday, April 7, 2006 and May 11, 2006.
  7. Todd Applegate, personal email ("Updates on I-39/90/US 20 in Rockford, IL"), December 28, 2007.

Page Updated July 29, 2008.

 
Mileage

State Illinois
Mileage 123.42
Cities Normal, La Salle, Mendota, Rockford
Junctions Interstate 55, Interstate 80, Interstate 88, Interstate 90
State Wisconsin
Mileage 182.72
Cities Beloit, Janesville, Madison, Portage, Plover/Stevens Point, Wausau
Junctions Interstate 43, Interstate 94, Interstate 90/94
TOTAL 306.14
Source: October 31, 2002 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
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