Wisconsin Department of Transportation

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Transportation timeline

1600-1900 | 1901-25 | 1926-50 | 1951-75 | 1976-2000 | After 2000

1600-1900

  • 1634 - French explorer Jean Nicolet arrives at what is now Green Bay.
  • 1672 - Marquette and Jolliet expedition through Wisconsin by canoe.
  • 1783 - Territory comprising what is now Wisconsin comes under United States control. Transportation is primarily by trails and waterways.
  • 1836 - Wisconsin becomes a territory. Territorial roads are authorized. The first military road completed from Ft. Howard to Fort Crawford.
  • 1847 - Milwaukee to Watertown plank road constructed. Stage coach mail service begins.
  • 1848 - Wisconsin becomes the 30th US state. State roads are authorized to accommodate travel by horse and horse-drawn vehicles.
  • 1850 - First railroad in Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Wauwatosa.
  • 1871 - First automobile developed in Wisconsin by Dr. J.W. Carhart.
  • 1880 - The bicycle becomes a viable means of transportation.

1901-1925

  • 1905 - Auto license law passed.
  • 1908 - Constitution amended to allow state funding of construction and improvement of public highways.
  • 1909 - First aircraft flight in Wisconsin.
  • 1911 - State highway commission is established when the State Aid law is enacted by the legislature.
  • 1913 - Legislature gives the state highway commission authority to create seven divisions in locations around the state.
  • 1916 - Federal Aid Road Act provides funding for the development of paved roads.
  • 1917 - The 5000 mile state trunk highway system is established. First Wisconsin roadmap is produced.
  • 1918 - Wisconsin develops uniform highway classification and numbering system which is later adopted nationally.
  • 1921 - Federal Highway Act.
  • 1925 - State highway commission requires prequalification of contractors.

1926-1950

  • 1926 - US highway system is established.
  • 1927 - State Highway Commission Construction Department established.
  • 1930's - During the depression many roads are built as part of new deal public works projects.
  • 1931 - State highway commission assumes full responsibility and expense for state trunk highway maintenance.
  • 1933 - State highway commission acquires and continues operation of the Merrimac free ferry.
  • 1937 - State highway commission places a bituminous weatherproof surface on State Trunk Highway system.
  • 1939 - Motor vehicle division created.
  • 1941-1945 - World War II impacts transportation through rationing of fuel and parts.
  • 1945 - Wisconsin state highway fund created and segregated from the general fund.
  • 1946 - Wisconsin aeronautics commission created.
  • 1947 - State trunk highway system enlarged to 12,000 miles.

1951-1975

  • 1953 - State Patrol receives first state-purchased cars for troopers.
  • 1956 - The Interstate Highway Act was enacted under President Eisenhower to create a quality network of highways throughout the nation to serve national defense during the cold war.
  • 1956 - "Bare Pavement" winter maintenance policy adopted. State highway commission installs first computer.
  • 1958 - First segment of Interstate highway in WI dedicated - 7.5 miles of I-94 between Goerke's Corners and CTH "SS" in Waukesha County.
  • 1959 - Edge line pavement marking started.
  • 1960 - First interstate safety rest areas are constructed on I-94.
  • 1965 - Legislature adopts new highway safety improvement law.
  • 1967 - Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is created by merging the Divisions of Highways, Aeronautics and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • 1968 - Highway Beautification Act. Bridge Inspection Program mandated by federal aid highway act.
  • 1969 - Wisconsin rural Interstate system essentially completed.
  • 1970 - Congress enacts the Environmental Protection Law.
  • 1973 - The oil embargo and energy crisis lead to the enactment of the 55 mph rural speed limit.
  • 1973 - Rustic Roads system created.

1976-2000

  • 1976 - Policy of preserving existing roads, rather than building new, was initiated.
  • 1978 - Congress deregulates airlines.
  • 1980 - Six-Year Highway Improvement Program approved.
  • 1981 - Final segment of Interstate Highway in WI completed on I-43.
  • 1982 - Child restraint law covering under-four age group in effect.
  • 1984 - 30 miles of I-90/94, from Madison to Portage, are reconstructed from four to six lanes in one year.
  • 1987 - Mandatory seatbelt law enacted. Relocated Madison South Beltline opens.
  • 1988 - I-43 is extended from Milwaukee to Beloit.
  • 1992 - Construction Quality Management Program is implemented.
  • 1995 – Comprehensive, multimodal transportation plan, Translinks 21, is adopted.
  • 1996 - I-39 is extended into Wisconsin from the Illinois border to Wausau.
  • 1996 - WisDOT establishes Internet presence on information superhighway.
  • 1998 - Airport Development Program implemented.
  • 2000 - US 53 4-lane expressway from Eau Claire to Superior completed. WI 29 4-lane expressway from Chippewa Falls to Green Bay completed.
  • 2000 - Hoan Bridge span fails.
  • 2000 - Graduated Driver License (GDL) system is implemented.

2001-2025

  • 2001 - US 51 4-lane expressway up to US 8 completed.
  • 2001 - Hoan Bridge reopened to traffic and fully repaired.
  • 2002 - Wisconsin's deadliest motor-vehicle crash involved 51 cars on I-43 in Sheboygan County. The October 11, 2002 crash claimed the lives of 10 while 50 people were injured.
  • 2003 - Wisconsin’s standard for drunk driving lowered from a 0.10 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) to 0.08 percent BAC; bill took effect on September 30.
  • 2003 - Merrimac Ferry ColSac II is replaced with ColSac III
  • 2003 - US 10 expanded, connecting the Fox Valley with central Wisconsin.
  • 2003 - "Baby Luke" law takes effect. Prohibits motorists from driving if they have any detectable amount of a controlled substance in their system.
  • 2004 - A new bridge opens at La Crosse carrying US 14/61/WIS 16 over the Mississippi River.
  • 2004 - Reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee begins and is completed in 2008.
  • 2005 - The Milwaukee Airport Rail Station opens at Mitchell International Airport, becoming the first passenger rail-to-airport link in the Midwest.
  • 2006 - Annual indexing of the state's gas tax repealed in 2005, with the last indexing adjustment made April 1, 2006.
  • 2009 - Primary safety belt enforcement law takes effect in Wisconsin on July 1.
  • 2010 - Law to ban texting while driving takes effect in Wisconsin on December 1.
  • 2011 - 100th anniversary of an official Wisconsin transportation agency in recognition of state legislation enacted in 1911 that established a State Highway Commission.
  • 2012 - Law to prohibit cell phone use by new drivers is implemented effective November 1.
  • 2012 - The department’s MAPSS Performance Improvement Program is launched.  
  • 2013 - Pier on the Leo Frigo Bridge in Green Bay sags. The structure is repaired and reopened to traffic in January 2014.

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Contact: Office of Public Affairs, opa.exec@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: February 26, 2014

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