A Record-Setting Portion of the Interstate Highway System Opens in North Dakota

On October 16, 1958, a dedication ceremony was held for the first part of Interstate 94 (I-94) in central North Dakota. This segment, covering 39 miles (62.8 kilometers) between the cities of  Valley City and Jamestown in the eastern region of North Dakota, was also the first portion of the Interstate Highway System to be completed anywhere in that state.

The dedication took place at the interchange for the community of Eckelson along the new route. Governor John E. Davis of North Dakota cut a ribbon during the event to symbolize the grand opening of I-94 in the Peaceful Garden State. Other public officials attending this dedication included Paul F. Royster, assistant commissioner for operations at the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (a predecessor of the Federal Highway Administration); A.W. Wentz, commissioner of the North Dakota State Highway Department (the present-day North Dakota Department of Transportation); H.L. Holt, mayor of Valley City; and William Westley, mayor of Jamestown.

As the main speaker for the occasion, Royster emphasized the overall significance of Interstate highways nationwide at that early stage of the system’s development. He said, “When completed, the interstate system will connect as directly as practicable 90 per cent of all the cities having populations of 50,000 or more, as well as many smaller cities and towns.”

Royster also discussed what he saw as the potential economic benefits of Interstate highway connections for North Dakota itself. “Industry is seeking out locations along the interstate and other improved highways,” he said. “Factories are moving away from the congestion of the metropolitan areas to these locations where there is room to expand. “

While this October event marked the ceremonial inauguration for that part of I-94 in North Dakota, the actual opening of the segment did not occur until about a month later and only after all of the signs for the new route had been installed. This segment was opened to traffic without any of the fanfare of that formal dedication, but Wentz did use the opportunity to help drivers get used to this new type of highway in North Dakota. “Be very careful to observe signs,” he cautioned in remarks that were published in the Bismarck Tribune. “On a new type of road such as this, drivers will have to forget many of their old habits and concentrate on learning procedures which will insure safe driving if allowed.”  

At the time of its opening, the section of I-94 between Valley City and Jamestown held the record for the longest continuous stretch of the Interstate Highway System that been completed up to that time. North Dakota’s share of I-94 now encompasses 352.4 miles (567 kilometers) across the state and between its boundaries with Minnesota to the east and Montana to the west. I-94 has the additional distinction of being the longest Interstate highway in North Dakota. This highway covers a total of 1,585.2 miles (2,551.1 kilometers) between its eastern terminus in Michigan and western terminus in Montana, with North Dakota having the largest portion of that route.

Photo Credit: bobjgalindo (licensed under Creative Commons)

For more information on Interstate highways in North Dakota, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Interstate_Highways_in_North_Dakota

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