Interstate 296 is the hidden designation for a 3.4 mile long section of U.S. 131 north from I-196 to I-96 in central Grand Rapids. U.S. 131 extends south from I-296 as a freeway to Kalamazoo and Portage and north to Cadillac and Manton.
Interstate 296 acknowledged on the 1978 Michigan Official State Map
Until 1979 Interstate 296 was co-signed along U.S. 131 in Grand Rapids with the exception of the long two lane exit ramps to I-96 west and from I-96 east. Signs for I-296 were removed at the request of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). The American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHTO) approved the elimination for the signing of I-296 on October 13, 1979:
The deletion of I-296 Route Markers in the Grand Rapids area will eliminate the dualing of I-296 / US 131, I-296/I-196, and I-296/ I-96 Route Markers. Existing signing presents a duplication of numbers in this area which is confusing to motorists, particularly at interchanges.
The removal of markers for Interstate 296 was the result of a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sponsored Positive Guidance Demonstration Project, which determined that the signing was a potential source of confusion for motorists. The geometric design of the exchange joining I-96 and I-296/U.S. 131 and the complete overlap of I-296 with U.S. 131 were cited as reasons that the signing for the interchange became unnecessarily complex. Furthermore, the length of proposed diagrammatic signing would be substantially shortened. The FHWA recommended at a meeting in January 1979 with MDOT that the state of Michigan eliminate I-296 and relocate M-37, which overlapped with I-96 through the exchange.
The state agreed with the recommendation, indicating a preference of removing both the signing of I-296 and the designation from the official State Map. MDOT however expressed concern that removing the signage for I-296 might also result in its removal from the Interstate System. It followed with a recommendation to remove I-296 from guide signs, but retaining trailblazers for the route. FHWA countered that the compromise was not in the best interest of the motorist:
While it would certainly make the guide signing simpler, it would increase the discrepancy between the maps and the signs, and play havoc with driver expectancy.
MDOT eventually agreed with the FHWA position in a letter from April 11, 1979 to remove all I-296 references if the three mile section continued to remain in the Interstate System. This allowed Interstate funding to be applied to future projects along the route.