Competing approaches to names

Naming our Highways

Competing approaches to names

Northbound just south of the Minnesota River. Competing approaches to names.

I grew up in Northfield, and Cedar Avenue was a common route from Northfield into the Twin Cities. The name isn’t signed between the Northfield border and Eureka Township, but I knew it by no other name. In fact, I remember my parents having to explain to me, when I was first learning to drive: “just follow the signs for 23… 23 is Cedar.”

So it’s caused me almost endless frustration, since moving north of the Minnesota River, that folks nearly always refer to the freeway portion of Cedar as “Highway 77”. Although as an urbanist I naturally lend more value to a city street than a freeway, it seemed to be awfully Minneapolis-centric to only lend the name of this long-established route to the street within the city limits.

Since first noticing the differences in usage of 77 versus Cedar Avenue, I’ve also taken note of many other differences in local names versus signage on freeways and other major trunk highways. Other than Cedar/77, the most established appear to be TH 62 Crosstown and TH 55 Hiawatha Avenue.

Does giving a highway a local name enhance community identity? Or does it dilute the value of a name?

And now, my list, based entirely on my own impressions and findings. Please add comments if you know of others, or find any errors.

Highway number Historical or current name Usage?
MN-3 S Robert St /
Robert Tr
Name seems to be used north of Dakota County Road 42.
MN-5 Fort Rd /
W 7th St
W 7th St name is used heavily in the City of St. Paul. Freeway portion through Fort Snelling, and through the concurrency with I-494, does not seem to be called Fort Road. Note that the TH 5 freeway bridge is called the Fort Road Bridge.
MN-13 Sibley Memorial Highway Name is signed in City of Eagan and Mendota. Only appears to be used actively in Mendota.
I-35/35W Lyndale Avenue
(Historical) /
Bloomington Fwy
Runs concurrent with Lyndale Avenue south of the Minnesota River, but I have never heard anyone refer to 35/W as Lyndale.
US-52 Lafayette Freeway Used extensively locally, especially to describe the Lafayette Bridge. Freeway was built prior to US 52 being routed on it. Not signed on freeway.
MN-55 Hiawatha Avenue /
Olson Memorial Highway
Signed heavily on Hiawatha Avenue segment. Olson Highway name is signed in North Minneapolis and Golden Valley. Hiawatha name is heavily used; Olson Highway less-so, especially outside Minneapolis.
MN-62 Crosstown Highway /
The Crosstown
Not signed on freeway. Name used on some local signs, as well as Mn/DOT press releases. Used extensively locally.
MN-47 University Avenue Signed heavily within City of Minneapolis. Highway 47 seems to be more common name in highway-like portions.
MN-65 NE Central Avenue Signed heavily, especially inside 694. Central Avenue name seems more common, especially through Minneapolis and Columbia Heights. Central Avenue diverges from TH 65 north of 694.
MN-77 Cedar Avenue Signed at all junctions except 66th St, Diagonal Blvd, and Mall of America Junction. Cedar Avenue name seems to be used more extensively south of the Minnesota River. Extends as Cedar Avenue both north and south of freeway portion.
MN-100 Normandale Road /
Beltline Highway /
Lilac Drive
Normandale Road (Blvd) is used south of I-494, but this highway seems to be mainly referred to as Highway 100. Google Maps does call it Beltline Highway.
MN 149 Dodd Road Name seems to used, at least in Mendota Heights. Signed at interchange with 494.
I-394/US-12 Wayzata Blvd No signage on freeway. No significant local usage (except for frontage roads) that I am aware of.

Note: Updated table based on comments.

Sean Hayford Oleary

About Sean Hayford Oleary

Sean Hayford Oleary is a web developer and planner. He serves on the Richfield City Council, and previously on the city's Planning and Transportation commissions. Articles are written from a personal perspective and not on behalf of Richfield or others. Sean has a masters in urban planning from the Humphrey School. Follow his love of streets, home improvement, and all things Richfield on Twitter @sdho.

25 thoughts on “Naming our Highways

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Some factoids:

    “Crosstown” appeared to go out of favor when the freeway went from County to State designation. Signs came down over time through the 90s. This is also why there are two TH 62s… Crosstown, and the original 62 rural highway near Windom.

    Lafayette Freeway was actually TH 3 until the connection to Hwy 55 (Courthouse Boulevard for those in the know) was built in the mid-90s. 52 went north on Robert Street to downtown, and 3 jogged over to the Lafayette Freeway to head downtown.

    University Ave: Follow the line north on Google Maps and see how there are tons of short segments of University Ave west of TH 47- farm roads and residential streets. It goes up to Mille Lacs.

    55 used to follow 7th/8th Streets through Downtown between the Olson and Hiawatha stretches. This was turned back a couple years ago, but the signage was never updated to reflect that 55 is now routed via Interstate 94. It’s a gap as far as signage goes, although I think most people think of these two as distinct facilities and not one continuous highway (despite the number) so it’s not a big deal.

    Dodd Road is a cool one… also known as Dodd Blvd (CR 9) in Lakeville. It went to St. Peter by way of Faribault. I have yet to find a decent map that shows the original route however, but it can be traced.

    MN 100 (The original Belt Line) was long known as Lilac Drive for the lilac bushes planted along the corridor when it was built in the 30s. Search Lilac Drive in the TPT Video Vault for an interesting documentary about Hwy 100.

    35W/35 is also known as Kenrick Ave in Lakeville (following Lakeville’s local adaptation of the Dakota County alphabetical naming scheme) and Pillsbury Ave and Hazelwood Ave through Scott County down to Hwy 19. Pillsbury is based on Scott County’s use of Minneapolis/Hennepin street naming, and Hazelwood is named after the little village with the church just north of the Hwy 19 exit. Technically this was the latest route of US Hwy 65, but much of I-35 was built on new right of way parallel to the old highway.

    1. Sean Hayford Oleary

      Judging by traffic reports (at least WCCO Radio and Star Tribune’s The Drive blog), the Crosstown name is alive and well. Example

      Mn/DOT appears to prefer calling it Highway 62, but they certainly use the name as well. It’s most noticeable for the Richfield Transportation Commission, where a full 3-hour meeting can go without someone ever uttering “sixty two.”

      The only current signs I’m aware of that say Crosstown are these signs posted by the City of Minneapolis, indicating no access.

      The Lakeville stuff is a little anachronistic. Lyndale Avenue was the name of the rural route (although it technically strays from the Minneapolis Lyndale plane). In fact, a section still existing in Faribault, although the area in between is all I-35. Then again, the goal was to capture both current and former names, so this is a good point. In that spirit, it’s worth noting that frontage roads in Bloomington suggest 35W is called Bloomington Freeway.

      Same thing with 100 frontage roads in Golden Valley — Lilac Drive, as you note.

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Also, bonus points to anyone who can identify the reason behind Cedar Avenue’s name.

    1. Reilly

      Total shot in the dark here, but before incorporation, Apple Valley (through which Cedar passes) was known as Lebanon Township… as in “Cedars of Lebanon”.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    The same goes for local rail lines. I’m still not sure which is green, red, or chartreuse but I know the Hiawatha Line and Central (corridor) Line.

    London color coded their lines but continued using the names as primary which has seemed to work well. It’s easy to see the lines on maps thanks to the colors and you get use to which colors are where on the streets but the names make it easier to remember.

  4. scott Engel

    I always foget that Lake Street/ MN Highway 7 is listed as Hennepin County 25 at Highway 100. Very confusing.

    1. Sean Hayford Oleary

      Heh, yes, I list that as a purely historical name, not a current name. And indeed, it’s not even a good historical name within Hennepin County, since 35W runs on ~Humboldt Ave and 2nd Ave north of the Minnesota River. On the other hand, I-94 does briefly run on the Lyndale Ave plane just north of the Lowry Tunnel.

  5. Steve Gjerdingen

    I think the reason that highways are not named by MnDOT could be because it would make the highway seem too personal. Perhaps MnDOT would rather have their highways be vacant desolate swaths of land void of any sense of emotion or feeling. This reduces expectations that users will enjoy them, and it helps with reducing travel to a form-factor product required by everyone versus an experience. This is the political step necessary to be able to get away with greatly altering landscapes for the purposes of travel.

    1. Froggie

      Has nothing to do with MnDOT. Naming streets, roads, and “highways” is a local function. If you’re going to rail on it, rail on the laziness of local municipalities and counties…

      1. Sean Hayford Oleary

        This is a good point, although Mn/DOT ultimately decides on exit signage, etc, which can have a major impact on the perceived identity of the street. That is, a city may name a highway whatever they please, but if it’s not labeled as such on the most prominent signage, it’s doubtful people will recognize it as such. An important example would be the Olson Memorial Highway — identified as such on every signal mast arm and (until this year) on exit signage on I-94 in the City of Minneapolis. In Golden Valley, it is still locally named the Olson Memorial Highway, but signal mast arms say only “55”, and the interchange signage at TH 100 also makes no mention of the local name.

        That said, it seems like local governments often don’t bother to name “new” alignments of highways. In Northfield, TH 246 runs on Woodley Street West and Division Street South. The Division St portion is sometimes called “Highway 246”, but the Woodley portion never is. Nearby TH 3, however, runs mostly on an alignment built specifically for TH 3. Except for a short concurrency with Water Street downtown, it’s just called “Highway 3 North”/”Highway 3 South” for local addresses and signage.

        There are definitely some exceptions, though, like the new alignment of TH 55 in the vicinity of Crosstown taking over the name Hiawatha Avenue.

  6. Steve Harper

    When I lived in Faribault some of the old timers still referred to county 46 as Old Lyndale.

  7. Paul

    I’ve heard the 35W bridge over the Minnesota River referred to as the Lyndale Bridge, but only in rare instances.

    My family has frequently referred to CSAH 81 (former TH 152) between Robbinsdale and Rogers as the Old Highway.

    65 is regularly referred to as Central Avenue all the way to Cambridge.

  8. Fr Lucien

    The one I find most interesting is part of the original beltline highway that went around the Twin Cities. It goes by many names:

    Century Avenue
    State Highway 120
    Geneva Avenue
    East County Line Rd
    Division Street

    I understand that the Century Ave name came about because it was originally part of Highway 100.

  9. Peter

    The naming of streets/stroads/highways around here has always intrigued me. It seems there is a lot of local pride, and as you cross jurisdictional boundaries, the names and route numbers often change (Robert St becomes Robert Trl as the route becomes more stroad-like in Dakota County as they wouldn’t dare want to be like St. Paul). As someone originally from outside of Minnesota, I also find it both funny and confusing that laypeople are required to know the difference between a “County Road’ and a “Highway” (MnDOT Road). Ramsey County is my favorite, how would you like to live on a stroad called “County C2 West”? People sending me mail from outside the area would probably wounder what type of stroad abyss I lived in. Mounds View has both US Highway 10 and Ramsey County 10 (locals refer to the distinction between the two roads as white 10 (US) and blue 10 (county). Very confusing if you don’t live there and aren’t familiar with Minnesota road hierarchy.

    It appears that MnDOT prefers to sign roads by route number, and only adds street names when there is strong local use of the names.

    Compare this to the east coast, where most roads are referred to by their names only and and the same name typically span multiple jurisdictional boundaries. Nearly every street and stroad has a route number designation, but no one knows what they are or cares except traffic engineers. Only major highways are referred to by number (except they are referred to by locals as “route xx” instead of “highway xx.”).

    I personally like the east coast approach of naming all roads, and leaving the specific route designations for the traffic engineer’s use only. Much easier and you don’t have to tell someone to make sure they take the blue 10 exit and not white 10.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      The Ramsey County suburban highway names are somewhat specific to Ramsey County, though.

      In general, Hennepin County streets are primarily identified by name, and secondarily by county road shield. There are some exceptions, usually when a former state highway has been turned back to county maintenance (e.g., Old 101/CSAH 101, CSAH 88 New Brighton Blvd, CSAH 81 Bottineau Blvd).

      Similarly, in Dakota County, most county roads are identified by name. The two exceptions that come to mind are County Road 42 and County Road 70, although both do have local names for businesses and residences along the corridors. (e.g., if you live on County Road 42, your address is probably 1234 150th St W or something.) Other county roads, like Cedar Avenue, Pilot Knob Road, Yankee Doodle Road, etc are rarely called by their highway number.

      Ramsey County’s system is unusual, in combining letters and numbers. It seems that the numbered only ones (like in the City of St Paul) are more apt to be called by the local name than the letter-number combined ones (like County C2).

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I’m curious about the Robert Trail thing as well. On the other hand, sometimes the central city deviates — like St Paul renaming their section of Lexington Avenue to be Lexington Parkway.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Did you know that the exit from Westbound 494 to “Hwy 3” has a “<- To Robert Street" sign even though the street is Robert Trail?

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Looks like the overhead sign is “S Robert Tr” and it’s the sign approaching the interchange that says “TO S Robert St”. This seems standard/correct. You’re technically on Robert Trail, but very close to Robert St (West St Paul calls it Robert St). This is reasonably common when a major junction occurs close to a border where the name might change.

          1. Froggie

            Technically if you’re on westbound 494, you’re not exiting to Hwy 3 but instead you’re exiting onto 110. So the “TO” bit is appropriate.

            Or did Matt mean the direct exit from eastbound 494 to Hwy 3?

            1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              No, the loop from westbound 110 to Hwy 3, just before the signal at the end of the ramp. It’s after you’ve already committed to exit to Hwy 3.

              I called it the exit from 494 because the corresponding loop (from Hwy 3 to eastbound 110) is actually labeled as the ramp to eastbound 494.

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