The Trunk Highways of Dakota County - A History

The following article gives a short history of the trunk highway network within Dakota County. Many of the most important routes connecting southeast Minnesota with the Twin Cities have passed through it over the years, owing to its location relative to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Dakota County has also undergone tremendous change as the northern portions have been suburbanized. There are still large regions of rural character only miles from the edge of some of the fastest growing suburbs in the Twin Cities. Several interstates and U.S. routes, along with smaller, more rural routes make Dakota County a good microcosm of the highway system in Minnesota as a whole.

>> Page Index

Beginnings: Dakota County's First Trunk Highways, 1921-1934

>> Contents

There were very few paved highways in Dakota County when Minnesota created its first numbered trunk highway system by constitutional amendment in 1920. The amendment started a construction program that resulted in the construction of over 100 miles of paved highway by the end of 1933.

The First State Routes in Dakota County - 1921

Of the 70 original constitutional routes created by the 1920 amendment, five were first marked in Dakota County in 1921: State Routes 1, 3, 20, 50, and 53.

Route 1 was the main road leading straight south from St. Paul through Dakota County to Northfield, Faribault, Owatonna, and Albert Lea.

Route 3 was the river road, crossing into Dakota County via the spiral bridge over the Mississippi at Hastings on its way to La Crosse.

Route 20 was the main route to Rochester, starting at Route 3 south of Hastings (at the modern junction of U.S. Highway 61 with State Highways 20 and 50).

Route 50 was the primary route out of Minneapolis to the south and east, connecting with Route 1 at Farmington, and with Route 20 at Cannon Falls.

Route 53 was a short route along the west bank of the Mississippi RIver between South St. Paul and Hastings.

The Department of Highways began a program to improve these original trunk highways into paved, modern roads. When the routes were first marked in 1921, construction on Highways 1 and 50 was already underway. These early projects had been planned as part of the "State Road" program, a funding program for roads akin to today's County State Aid program. In addition, the northern portion of Route 53 in South St. Paul was already paved with sandstone blocks and brick. The rest of the new routes were marked on already existing gravel and dirt roads. By the end of 1933, all 5 original trunk highways passing through Dakota County were hard surfaced and modernized (see the map of completion dates, right). The first route finished was Route 1, which was fully paved by 1922. Route 50 was next, being improved in pieces from northwest to southeast throughout the 1920's, with the final concrete laid in 1928 just north of Cannon Falls. Routes 3 and 20 were completed in 1931. Route 53 was completed last, with the final concrete laid in 1933.

Right, a scan from the 1923 official highway map from just two years after the system was legalized, showing the 5 original constitutional routes in Dakota County. The solid red lines represent paved roads, the half filled/half white roads gravel (high and low types), and the unfilled lines unimproved dirt roads. By 1923, State Route 1 had already been completed, and Highway 50 had been completed south to Lakeville. Also notice that Highway 53 has been paved as far south as Inver Grove. The rest of the original state routes are still gravel or dirt.

Very little actually remains of the original concrete roads constructed by the Minnesota Department of Highways in the 1920's and 1930's in Dakota County. Nearly all of the original concrete has either been "obliterated" (the term used on highway plans), or paved over. This short stretch of concrete at Highway 52 and Fischer Avenue between Hampton and Cannon Falls is the only stretch surviving. This concrete was laid down in 1928 as part of old State Highway 50 (and U.S. Highway 55). It was replaced by the modern divided highway in 1963.

>> Jump To : The First State Routes | The First U.S. Routes | Other Early Improvements

>> back to top

The First U.S. Routes in Dakota County, September 1926:

A few years after Minnesota created its first trunk highway system, the U.S. route system was introduced by the AASHO to maintain routes across state lines, allowing for interstate travel. The U.S. highway system was first marked on roads in Minnesota in September, 1926. Three of the original U.S. routes ran through Dakota County: U.S. 55, U.S. 61, and U.S. 65. All three of these original U.S. routes duplexed (doubled) with an already existing state route.

U.S. 55 ran on the same roads as State Route 50 from Cannon Falls to Minneapolis through Hampton, Farmington, and Lakeville.

U.S. Highway 61 duplexed with Route 3 from Red Wing to Hastings.

U.S. Highway 65 duplexed with State Route 1 from Northfield to St. Paul through Farmington and Rosemount.

Right, a scan from the 1933 official highway map, showing the nearly completed original trunk highway network in Dakota County. Part of State Route 53 still shows as gravel. It was paved later the same year. Notice the original routes of U.S. Highway 55 to Minneapolis, and U.S. Highway 65 to St. Paul.

>> Jump To : The First State Routes | The First U.S. Routes | Other Early Improvements

>> back to top

Other Early Improvements in Dakota County, 1921-1933

The Trunk Highways were not the only roads being improved in Dakota County during the twenties and early thirties. Both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties built roads into Dakota County to provide easier access to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some of these roads were actually superior to the roads being built by the Department of Highways.

Probably the biggest development during the twenties was the construction of the Mendota Bridge, which was completed in 1926. The Mendota Bridge linked Minneapolis with northern Dakota County directly for the first time. Before the construction of the Mendota Bridge, the only way across the river at Mendota (other than by rail) had been by ferry. The next river crossings into Dakota County were either further north at the High Bridge (being used by State Highway 1), or further south at the Cedar Avenue Bridge into what is now Eagan. The Mendota Bridge allowed MInneapolis to tap into the highway network in northern Dakota County, which had previously been constructed to service only St. Paul.

The Mendota Bridge today, looking west towards Minneapolis.

Two concrete highways were constructed from the Dakota County end of the Mendota Bridge, branching off from each other at what is now the Highway 55 / 110 interchange. The first traveled southeast to a junction with State Highway 1 along what is now State Highway 55. The other highway, known as Mendota Road, was built east to South St. Paul along what is now State Highway 110 and Southview Boulevard (County Road 14).

Not to be outdone, Ramsey County improved the South Robert Trail into a 27 foot wide concrete road from downtown St. Paul to State Route 1 at what is now the junction of State Highways 149 and 3. South Robert was a much more direct link to downtown St. Paul than Route 1, and was much wider (Route 1 was only 18 to 20 feet wide). Billboards were posted at the intersection of Robert Trail and Highway 1 to convince motorists to use the new road. Interestingly, The 1932 and 1933 official highway maps show U.S. 65 routed onto Robert Trail instead of duplexing with Route 1, even though Robert Street wasn't technically added to the Trunk Highway System until 1934 (see the scan from the 1933 official highway map, right).

Ironically, as soon as the original trunk highway system in Dakota County was completed in 1933, the state legislature passed a new highway bill that resulted in the creation of an expanded and totally reorganized highway system in 1934.

>> Next Page - Maturity: Pre-war development and the legislative routes - 1934-1945

>> Jump To : The First State Routes | The First U.S. Routes | Other Early Improvements

>> back to top

>> Page Index

>> Back to the Articles Index