Highway History

“The Great Basin Highway, Part 1”

By Michael R. “Mike” Newlon

This is Part 1 of a mini-series of postings covering the highlights of my October 2013 southbound highway adventure on U.S. Route 93, unofficially called The Great Basin Highway.

A much more detailed (especially some spectacular photos) review of the highway trip in my 1969 Porsche 912 will appear in an upcoming “coffee table” book entitled, of course, “U.S. Route 93”.

This trip began on a nippy early morning in October of 2013 at the northern terminus (end) of U.S. Route 93 at the U.S./Canada border near Roosville, Montana.

Photo 1 – Looking north at the U.S./Canada border from inside the almost warm 912.

I looked for a northbound or southbound sign near the border that said, “End”, above a U.S. Route 93 federal shield. I didn’t see one. In either direction. I didn’t even see a U.S. Route 93 sign all by itself between where I was parked and the border in the background of the photo above.

I’ve seen others, in other states, so I guess highway terminus signage is a State Department of Transportation thing – some use “End” signs and some don’t.

Photo 2 – This is the first southbound U.S. Route 93 marker, on the northern outskirts of Eureka, Montana.

This U.S. Route 93 sign is (I presume) about 8 miles south of the border. The location can be easily found on a Montana highway map at the point where U.S. Route 93 and Montana Route 37 meet.

I took Photo 2 in early morning after my short trip north to the U.S./Canada border. While taking this photo with Canada 8 miles behind me, Wickenburg, Arizona, seemed a very long distance away.

Photo 3 – Montana’s roadside markers are excellent and informative.

The winters in northwestern Montana can be very cold. But their summers bring long days and warm temperatures, ideal for growing all manner of crops.

The Great Northern Railway is mentioned in the last line of the sign. It’s successor organization is today’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad. Great Northern, regardless of current name, has been a really big deal in northern Montana for over a century, and deservedly so. It helped build the state.

Photo 4 – Highway history in the making, if you know where to look.

The 912 above is on a U.S. Route 93 by-pass still under construction on the western outskirts of Kalispell, Montana. The highway was initially routed through Kalispell on the town’s principal north-south street. But, as so often happens, the town changes the highway after the highway changes the town.

When I took this photo, the northbound by-pass stopped at U.S. Route 2 (Idaho Avenue) and the northern portion (up to Reserve Road) of the by-pass was still under construction.

But that will change in a year or two when the highway will most likely be officially routed around downtown Kalispell on this by-pass – perhaps leaving the city’s downtown area with an uncertain future.

Photo 5 – Looking north at old and new alignments of U.S. Route 93 near Lakeside, Montana.

The former (probably original) alignment of U.S. Route 93 is on the right (closer to Flathead Lake). The new, wider, straighter and safer alignment is on the left in the photo above.

As more homes were built along the lake, and traffic increased on the U.S. highway serving them, just pulling out of your driveway onto a major U.S. highway could be very exciting. So moving the roadway just a couple of hundred feet (in this location) made a lot of sense.

With the new and improved highway alignment, more traffic could move more safely through this area. Now, the former U.S. highway is an appropriately named residential street.

Photo 6 - Old and new alignments of U.S. Route 93 in western Montana.

I took this photo from the center of the former, now abandoned, highway alignment. The current alignment is on the right. Though parallel cracks in the asphalt about 19 feet apart is a good hint, I could not determine for sure if there was a concrete highway buried beneath where I was standing.

I did know, however, that concrete was more expensive than asphalt to pour many years ago concrete. But concrete requires less maintenance and has a longer useful life than asphalt – all other things being equal.

This roadway is clearly falling apart and the relative freshness of the yellow center line paint tells me it was abandoned just a few years ago.

Come back again to continue my southbound journey on this wonderful U.S. highway. In the next Installment, we’ll cross into Idaho at Lost Trail Pass (el. 6,951) and see what highway surprises await us in Idaho.

Finally, please visit my web site at www.highwaytripbooks.com. Air Cooled forever!

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