SHERIFF'S CORNER: The roads we travel

There are many options to get around here in Lake County. You can take your car and travel down a county road, take your buggy down a back road, ride your quad on a trail or take your canoe down a stream.

Some roads are paved and some are gravel, some have signs and some have markers ... but did you know each road is designated for a particular purpose and may have limitations or special provisions.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover the definition of the roads we travel.


The world's oldest known paved road was constructed in Egypt some time about 2400 BC. In the U.S., historically, many roads were basically recognizable routes without any formal designation or construction. Many of the routes that the Native American tribes used for hundreds of years follow the same routes used on current roads and highways.

In 1817, the Michigan territorial government gave the task of building local roads to the townships, under the control of the county commissioners. Supervision of township road projects became a difficult task for county commissioners due to the extremely large size of Michigan's early counties.


There are always exceptions to the rules, but these are the most common street definitions:

• A "road" is anything that connects two points. The most common designation.

• A "street" is a public way, usually paved, that has buildings on either side.

• An "avenue" is the same as a street but run perpendicular to them.

• A "boulevard" is basically a wide street with a median through the middle.

• A "drive" is a winding road that has its route shaped by its environment, like a nearby lake or hill.

• A "court" is a short street that ends in a cul-de-sac.

• A "lane" is a short narrow street usually without a sidewalk/footpath.

• A "place" is a road with no throughway, like a dead end.

• A "way" is a small side street off a road.

• A "terminus" is the end of a route or highway.

The most common meaning of a "highway" is a well-constructed road that is capable of carrying reasonably heavy to extremely heavy traffic.

Highways are generally classified into four different types of systems: U.S. Highways, Interstate Highways, State Highways --called "M-Routes" -- and County Highways. Most are designated with a certain shaped marker which usually accompanies an abbreviated letter such as "U.S.", "I", "M" or "CR". Each highway has a unique origin and purpose.


With the automobile being the new mode of transportation, the people wanted a clearly defined method of travel. In 1926, The United States Numbered Highway System was enacted to establish designated highways for in-state and out-of-state travel.

Often referred to as Federal Highways, these highways were constructed and have been maintained by state or local governments. This is the classification of our "U.S. 10"

U.S. Highways do not have to meet a standard construction model, unlike the later Interstate Highways, and most are not constructed to freeway standards. Many travel through the main streets of the towns, villages and cities which you will eventually come across a stop sign or traffic signal.

There is a system on what number is assigned to a U.S. Highway. Odd-numbered routes generally run north to south and even-numbered routes generally run east to west, with the numbers increasing in the same fashion. For example, "U.S. 2" is in the upper peninsula, while "U.S. 12" is located in the southern part of the state.

Thirteen U.S. Highways currently call Michigan home, but historically, that number has been as high as 18.

The eastern terminus of U.S. 10 is in Bay City, with the western terminus of U.S. 10 in West Fargo, North Dakota. In 2015, the ferry SS Badger between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was officially assigned as part of the highway.


In 1956, The Federal Aid Highway Act was passed which established the Interstate Highway System, also known as an expressway. This created controlled-access highways with at least four lanes, with no at-grade crossings or intersections. Interstate Highways also have on and off ramps and are designed for high-speed traffic.

Taking place during the Cold War, another reason this act was established was as a way for citizens to evacuate cities in case of a nuclear bomb attack. This is the classification for highways like "I-75" or "I-96."

A major myth of an Interstate Highway is that one out of every five miles is straight so an airplane can land on it. While this has happened, there are no regulations that require it to be constructed in that fashion. Also, there are no requirements for curves to be designed into a highway to keep drivers awake.


In 1918, Michigan was the second state in the country to establish a designated state highway system. Commonly referred to as "M-routes," these state highways can be constructed in many ways to include eight-lane freeways in urban areas, four-lane rural highways and common two-way streets in cities or villages. This is the classification of our "M-37."

The southern terminus of M-37 is close to the border between Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties with the northern terminus being at the Mission Point Light on Old Mission Point in Grand Traverse County.

Lake County used to have another M-route, which was "M-63." Established in 1917, this highway at one point stretched from Peacock Township, through the Village of Luther, ending at what is now known as U.S. 131.

In 1961, "M-63" was decommissioned as a state trunkline and turned back to the control of the county and village. This route is now known as "Old 63" or "Old M-63". The M-63 designation was later given to a state trunkline that currently runs from Scottdale to Hagar Shores in the lower part of Southwest Michigan.


With the establishment of the Interstate Highway system, many old highways were either dissolved or bypassed that ran though smaller resort towns and vacation areas. In 1970, a lady from Saugatuck petitioned the state to establish another form of designated highway. This ultimately led to the establishment of the Intercounty Highway System with the designation of "CR".

The new system provided a consistent, statewide county numbering system for identifying primary county roads which retained their designations across county lines. These routes are recognizable with a blue/gold hexagon sign, usually followed by a letter and a number, depending on which region of the state they are in. As in "CR-A2" in Allegan County, or "CR D-19" in Livingston County.

Some counties established their own county highways, which are separate from the Intercounty Highway System, being proprietary in that particular county. For example, "CR-388" in Van Buren County which uses the same hexagon signage, and "CR-669" in Manistee County that uses a green or white rectangle for signage.

Not all counties participate in this program, Lake County is one of them.


The USBRS is the national cycling route network. Established in 1978, these are designated cycling routes that share the same routes with other county roads and highways. The signage is shaped like a green upside down acorn, with a white background.

USBR 20 is a cycle route that runs between Marine City, Michigan, and the coast of Oregon. In Lake County, it runs on Old 63 from the east, south on M-37, then west on 4 Mile Road, to 5 Mile Road, then north on Bass Lake Road to where it leaves the county.


The solid white line on the right side of the road is called the "fog line" which helps vehicles stay in their lane during foggy conditions and help pedestrians stay off the traveled portion of the road.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to