NORTH End: Stop sign/T intersection, US 2, Bayfield County WI
Highway 63 originally never made it to Wisconsin or Minnesota. In Oskaloosa IA, 63 turned northwest to end in Des Moines at an old route of US 6. In late 1934, 63 was rerouted on IA 59, making its way through Waterloo IA and Rochester MN and crossing US 61 and 53 in Wisconsin (which also created a numbering violation). See the US 163 page for more info.
Old SOUTH End: I-55 exit 23B, near Gilmore, Crittenden County AR
(scroll down for pictures)
Seeing any highway manipulated and twisted to serve an ulterior motive is bad (e.g. I-69). Seeing it happen to my favorite highway is even worse. Until 1999, 63's general route was best symbolized by a sweeping arc, with its points at either end. Then Arkansas decided to extend it, as a press release dated November 8, 1999 shows:
LITTLE ROCK (11-8) Portions of several Arkansas highways will be receiving a new designation, according to Arkansas Highway Commission Vice Chairman John "M" Lipton of Warren.
U.S. Highway 63, which presently enters the state from Missouri at Mammoth Springs and ends in West Memphis, is being extended from West Memphis to near Ruston, Louisiana.
From West Memphis, the route of U.S. Highway 63 will run concurrently with I-40 west to Highway 11 near Hazen. The U.S. 63 designation will then follow Highway 11 to Stuttgart where it will join U.S. Highway 79 southwestward to near Altheimer. From that point, U.S. 63 will follow existing Highway 15 to El Dorado where it will join U.S. Highway 167 into Louisiana.
"This designation will provide a continuous route from Interstate 55 at West Memphis to Interstate 20 near Ruston, Louisiana," Lipton noted. "This will link the towns of Hazen, Stuttgart, Pine Bluff, Warren, El Dorado and Ruston on a single U.S. Highway," he added.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department made a joint application with the Louisiana Department of Transportation requesting the designation in August of this year. The Route Numbering Committee of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials considered the request at its October meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma and recently notified both Departments of the approval.
"This route is yet another artery for commerce and economic development in southeast Arkansas," Lipton noted. "I'm very pleased that our request was accepted. It is a logical addition to the U.S. highway system."
A logical addition?!?
First of all, if 63 did indeed end at West Memphis, Arkansas certainly didn't show it. As the pictures below show, signage for 63 STOPS at the I-55 interchange. PERIOD. No signs indicated 63 continuing south. Finally, the extension is anything but logical. For 63's entire original route in Arkansas, it was northwest-to-southeast, angling toward Memphis.
Let's review what the new route does: It duplexes with I-55 for 16 miles and then I-40 for 103 more - unsigned. The 119 miles without a mention of 63 is longer than 63's entire route in Minnesota! Then it goes southwest, entirely against the original orientation, crosses US 65 (a numbering violation) and getting redundantly multiplexed with US 167 south of El Dorado to I-20. There is no other accurate way to explain this convoluted routing than to say, really, that an entirely new 63 has been created. Rand McNally signs it better than Arkansas does.
A far more acceptable solution, although equally far from perfect, would be removing the 63 designation south of Jonesboro (the rest is going to become I-555 anyway), and reroute 63 along US 49 and US 70, the latter paralleling I-40. Maybe then it would get some recognition. Remember, 63 is not signed at all along I-40 or I-55. Not on shields along the shoulder, not on any BGSs in West Memphis. Oh, and by the way, the Memphis map on the back of the 2001 Tennessee map still shows US 63 crossing the Mississippi into the city. (The announcement designating I-555 was the first ARDOT press release in 2001, dated January 10.)
Here are some maps to help you understand the status of 63 at its historical ends near I-55. (With help from Street Atlas)
As the colors above indicated, US 63 went a little more southwest before, continuing on what is now part of AR 77 before meeting up with (old) US 61 in Turrell and continuing (signed, I assume) into Memphis. As you can see, 61 has been rerouted a bit too, leaving I-55 and heading for a time on what is essentially a frontage road before going its own way again. Oh, I guess Arkansas forgot to tell you - US 61 is on I-55 south of this point too! And guess what - it's even more poorly signed, as in, not at all! Not even on BGSs at the interchange (see below).* US 61 is also unsigned for its southernmost 23 miles in Arkansas; past its crossing from Tennessee you might think it vanished completely. The part of old 61 that paralleled I-55 is now the southern part of AR 77.
*Even new BGS put up at this interchange, as it's upgraded, don't have any markers for US 61. More recent photos are on AARoads' site.
An enlarged view of I-55 exit 23 (as it looked in 2001) is below. The colored dots correspond to the pictures below, with arrows in the picture's direction. Light blue lines are ramps. Gray lines are frontage roads that parallel the freeway on both sides. For a while, 61 and 77 are frontage roads north of the interchange.
Facing north on 55, about where gray frontage road on south side turns to parallel 77
The signs in 2001 were somewhat recent, given that they display Butt-Ugly Kansas-Style signage (larger first letter). I seem to recall in 1994, when we traveled this path as well, that 61 was signed here, but that memory's pretty foggy.
GREEN DOT: Facing north on the offramp for 77 south
Ignoring the hat in front, you can see the ONLY sign for US 61 I saw at the interchange, on 61 itself, just below the yield sign. I'm inclined, given the shoddy signage so prevalent, to think the signs on 61 that we see the backs of are for (our left to right) US 63 north, To I-55, and AR 77 south. If we turn right, we will be on AR 77, and if we turn left, this is what we see:
PURPLE DOT: Facing northwest on 77 (soon-to-be 63)
Notice that there is NO signage for 63 south - an enlargement of the sign at right is below (forgive the fuzziness).
Closeup of sign in above picture (Jonesboro, Memphis, Blytheville)
YELLOW DOT: Facing northwest on 63
This is what you see after you cross the bridge. Whether we are really "on" 63 yet is sort of negligible; traffic going south on 63 will turn on the ramp to Memphis ahead of us, but traffic coming north came off the I-55 inner cloverleaf loop and is traveling where we are. What's missing? Everyone together now: Signs for 63 south!
Slight enlargement of sign in above picture - Memphis ramp is the left turn where the car ahead of us is in the above picture.
And the picture you've been waiting for...
doesn't really exist. There is no remnant of an "End 63" sign. There probably wasn't ever an "End 63" sign here. This is the best I can do, traveling on the last few hundred feet of 63 until 1999:
GRAY DOT: Facing south on 63
The white semi is on the bridge, right about where 63 used to end...and still should. These roads will have to be retooled before this road gets a final I-55 designation.
SOUTH End: I-20 exit 85, near Ruston, Lincoln County LA
Anything I want to say about this end I already have.
All pictures by me: 12/29/01
Page created 4/11/02; last updated 5/1/10