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Author Topic: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters  (Read 1765 times)

invincor

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why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« on: July 01, 2019, 03:47:55 PM »

There is an age-old question in Wisconsin.  Why do we use letters for our county trunk highways when most other states just use more numbers? 

And over the years of reading highway discussions here and elsewhere, I _think_ I've got a good understanding on this now, but I want to write it up in one post and let you all take potshots at it to be sure.  This is sort of a peer review process.

As we know, Wisconsin was the first state to establish a system of state trunk highways.  I know that in the process they kicked out the Auto Trails system and wrote into law that the state couldn't have any more named highways like the Auto Trails.  I think, but am not sure, that as they established the state highways they also said in law something like "these will have numbers, and only the state highways can have numbers, and here's the first batch of 5000 miles worth." 

This was very successful, so much so that other states started copying this idea almost at once, with Michigan being first in line just months later.  And the state of Wisconsin quickly got to work in adding to the system in those first few years until they'd got up to 10,000 miles worth.

Meanwhile, while all that state route-assigning was going on, some of the counties piped up and said they'd like to start establishing county trunk highways, and asked the state if they could help with this.  And the state just didn't get back to them, or said they would later on.  And after a year or two of this, a group of counties somewhere in the middle of the state got fed up with waiting and decided they could try to go ahead and establish a system on their own.  And since they didn't have state involvement, they had to fit their system within the cracks of the new laws the state had established.  The state had said names were now illegal, and that only they could assign numbers... and the counties noticed they'd said nothing about letters.  So they started doing their own county trunk systems using letter designations.  And the rest is history. 

Do I have this right, or have I misheard or misremembered something here?




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thspfc

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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2019, 04:38:11 PM »

I don't know - your inference is probably close to what happened - but I certainly like the lettering system better than the number system in other states. It makes it less confusing, since there's nothing like "go north on highway xx." "wait, which highway xx? The county one or the state one?"
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2019, 04:41:38 PM »

Given that everything is "highway" in Wisconsin (unlike, say, um, a state across the Lake to the east), the letters do make more sense there.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2019, 08:18:33 PM »

From Wisconsinhighways.org:

http://wisconsinhighways.org/highway_system.html

County Trunk Highways
Each county in Wisconsin maintains its own Country Trunk Highway (CTH) system, where routes are designated by letters instead of numbers. While the designation of some county highways may cross into two or more counties, any individual letter will appear many times in different parts of the state. The County Trunk Highway designations can be one-, two-, or three-letters in length. This system has its beginnings in 1921 and by 1924, each county in the state laid out a system of county-maintained routes, exclusive of the state trunkline system—but without legislative authorization. Then in 1925, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the system, which had been in place already in some counties for more than four years. Today, there are occurrences where some imagination has gone into the designation of county highways. For example, the County Trunk Highway which runs along the county line between Kenosha and Racine Counties is CTH-KR, the former US-12/US-18 in Madison running along Broadway is CTH-BW (for BroadWay), and CTH-LO (formerly STH-99 until January 1999) was named in honor of former Waukesha County Board Chairman Lloyd Owens.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2019, 09:13:41 PM »

Given that everything is "highway" in Wisconsin (unlike, say, um, a state across the Lake to the east), the letters do make more sense there.
In M-, the county roads - in spurts - tried to be like the state system.  G-59, BINGO!!!!

Also: it's HWY!
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2019, 05:21:45 AM »

A road geek pet peeve of mine that I  appreciate about this string—they are county trunk highways in Wisconsin, not county roads.  I find it particularly irritating that that US Postal Service and Google Maps has taken it upon itself to rename Wisconsin’s County Trunks.  Last time I checked the USPS wasn’t in the business of maintaining highway jurisdictions. 
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2019, 09:06:05 AM »

Thanks everyone for all the answers so far.  Keep 'em coming if you've got them. 
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2019, 01:08:41 PM »

A road geek pet peeve of mine that I  appreciate about this string—they are county trunk highways in Wisconsin, not county roads.  I find it particularly irritating that that US Postal Service and Google Maps has taken it upon itself to rename Wisconsin’s County Trunks.  Last time I checked the USPS wasn’t in the business of maintaining highway jurisdictions. 
One word: standardization

Around here, "trunk" is a part of an elephant, not a type of road.  I'm not even sure what a "trunk road" is.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2019, 01:20:09 PM »

A road geek pet peeve of mine that I  appreciate about this string—they are county trunk highways in Wisconsin, not county roads.  I find it particularly irritating that that US Postal Service and Google Maps has taken it upon itself to rename Wisconsin’s County Trunks.  Last time I checked the USPS wasn’t in the business of maintaining highway jurisdictions. 
One word: standardization

Around here, "trunk" is a part of an elephant, not a type of road.  I'm not even sure what a "trunk road" is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trunk_road
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2019, 07:10:13 PM »

From Wisconsinhighways.org:

http://wisconsinhighways.org/highway_system.html

County Trunk Highways
Each county in Wisconsin maintains its own Country Trunk Highway (CTH) system, where routes are designated by letters instead of numbers. While the designation of some county highways may cross into two or more counties, any individual letter will appear many times in different parts of the state. The County Trunk Highway designations can be one-, two-, or three-letters in length. This system has its beginnings in 1921 and by 1924, each county in the state laid out a system of county-maintained routes, exclusive of the state trunkline system—but without legislative authorization. Then in 1925, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the system, which had been in place already in some counties for more than four years. Today, there are occurrences where some imagination has gone into the designation of county highways. For example, the County Trunk Highway which runs along the county line between Kenosha and Racine Counties is CTH-KR, the former US-12/US-18 in Madison running along Broadway is CTH-BW (for BroadWay), and CTH-LO (formerly STH-99 until January 1999) was named in honor of former Waukesha County Board Chairman Lloyd Owens.

CTH CA (Appleton area) = College Avenue (west of I/US 41), and CE (E. College Ave) across the Fox River; WI 125 within Appleton corporate limits.
GV - GreenVille Drive (cap V for emphasis only).


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oscar

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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2019, 07:31:11 PM »

A road geek pet peeve of mine that I  appreciate about this string—they are county trunk highways in Wisconsin, not county roads.  I find it particularly irritating that that US Postal Service and Google Maps has taken it upon itself to rename Wisconsin’s County Trunks.  Last time I checked the USPS wasn’t in the business of maintaining highway jurisdictions. 

Heck, in Hawaii the U.S. Postal Service assigned new names (at least for postal purposes) to several communities, to deal with place name duplication left over from when Hawaii was divided into multiple kingdoms.

Around here, "trunk" is a part of an elephant, not a type of road.  I'm not even sure what a "trunk road" is.

In Manitoba province, primary highways are called Provincial Trunk Highways. Lesser highways are Provincial Roads.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2019, 02:02:59 PM »

I think Wisconsin's lettered county trunk highways are cool. Missouri also uses lettered highways as well (I assume they are also county trunk highways). How do the two systems differentiate?
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2019, 02:11:04 PM »

I think Wisconsin's lettered county trunk highways are cool. Missouri also uses lettered highways as well (I assume they are also county trunk highways). How do the two systems differentiate?

Missouri's lettered highways are secondary state routes, not county routes.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2019, 03:18:50 PM »

And county highways are usually kept up nicely.  Certainly better than rural roads and oftentimes as nice as state highways.  It's a good system. 
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2019, 04:19:31 PM »

I also like the system. Most county route numbers are ignored (at least in Illinois), mostly because they're more complicated than using the road name also given to the same road. However, saying "get on 94, and take the C exit over to B" is much easier for both explaining and understanding.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #15 on: September 05, 2019, 05:18:24 PM »

From Wisconsinhighways.org:

http://wisconsinhighways.org/highway_system.html

County Trunk Highways
Each county in Wisconsin maintains its own Country Trunk Highway (CTH) system, where routes are designated by letters instead of numbers. While the designation of some county highways may cross into two or more counties, any individual letter will appear many times in different parts of the state. The County Trunk Highway designations can be one-, two-, or three-letters in length. This system has its beginnings in 1921 and by 1924, each county in the state laid out a system of county-maintained routes, exclusive of the state trunkline system—but without legislative authorization. Then in 1925, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the system, which had been in place already in some counties for more than four years. Today, there are occurrences where some imagination has gone into the designation of county highways. For example, the County Trunk Highway which runs along the county line between Kenosha and Racine Counties is CTH-KR, the former US-12/US-18 in Madison running along Broadway is CTH-BW (for BroadWay), and CTH-LO (formerly STH-99 until January 1999) was named in honor of former Waukesha County Board Chairman Lloyd Owens.

CTH CA (Appleton area) = College Avenue (west of I/US 41), and CE (E. College Ave) across the Fox River; WI 125 within Appleton corporate limits.
GV - GreenVille Drive (cap V for emphasis only).

Outagamie/Winnebago County 'CB' - Outagamie County 'CA' ends at it.  BTW, the west part of WI 125 is in an unincorporated township area that is still outside of Appleton.

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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #16 on: October 08, 2019, 01:08:06 PM »

To me, the word "trunk" is an older or cruder synonym for "arterial" or "main road."  The word probably came from the idea of a tree trunk, as opposed to its smaller limbs or branches.  I like the use of letters because they're completely disambiguated from the numbered state routes, and easier to remember than 3- or 4-character designations (see Kentucky's minor state routes, Iowa's county highways).  I like Missouri's use of letters on their secondary routes, too.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #17 on: October 08, 2019, 01:25:34 PM »

The word probably came from the idea of a tree trunk, ...

Correct.  See https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/trunk point 5.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #18 on: October 09, 2019, 02:28:26 PM »

easier to remember than 3- or 4-character designations (see Kentucky's minor state routes, Iowa's county highways).

But "normal" county highway numbers do the exact same thing, just with numbers.  Either a blue "17" pentagon or a white "N" square is preferable for memory aid to a white "1043" elongated circle, but I don't see how a white "N" square is preferable to a blue "17" pentagon.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2019, 03:18:51 PM »

easier to remember than 3- or 4-character designations (see Kentucky's minor state routes, Iowa's county highways).

But "normal" county highway numbers do the exact same thing, just with numbers.  Either a blue "17" pentagon or a white "N" square is preferable for memory aid to a white "1043" elongated circle, but I don't see how a white "N" square is preferable to a blue "17" pentagon.

Wisconsin used theirs before the blue pentagon was a thing, IIRC.  And, when in Wisconsin, as it is in Wisconsin, everything being "highway", it's easier to differentiate one level (numbers) as being state versus another (letters) being county, i.e. "Take Highway 41 to Highway X and make a right to Highway 141."
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #20 on: October 09, 2019, 04:37:12 PM »



easier to remember than 3- or 4-character designations (see Kentucky's minor state routes, Iowa's county highways).

But "normal" county highway numbers do the exact same thing, just with numbers.  Either a blue "17" pentagon or a white "N" square is preferable for memory aid to a white "1043" elongated circle, but I don't see how a white "N" square is preferable to a blue "17" pentagon.

Wisconsin used theirs before the blue pentagon was a thing, IIRC.  And, when in Wisconsin, as it is in Wisconsin, everything being "highway", it's easier to differentiate one level (numbers) as being state versus another (letters) being county, i.e. "Take Highway 41 to Highway X and make a right to Highway 141."

All that may be true, but it has nothing to do with a designation being "easier to remember", which is the only thing I was responding to.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #21 on: October 09, 2019, 04:59:01 PM »

Wisconsin used theirs before the blue pentagon was a thing, IIRC.  And, when in Wisconsin, as it is in Wisconsin, everything being "highway", it's easier to differentiate one level (numbers) as being state versus another (letters) being county, i.e. "Take Highway 41 to Highway X and make a right to Highway 141."

All that may be true, but it has nothing to do with a designation being "easier to remember", which is the only thing I was responding to.

And what you said may be true about blue pentagons versus white squares, but it has nothing to do with the title of this thread, which is "why Wisconsin county trunks use letters."  :bigass:  I didn't comment on how either a white square or blue pentagon might be advantageous...mostly because I don't think it really matters.

Normal non-roadgeek motorists don't look into distinguishing between route types much.  When giving or interpreting directions, all they're going to see or say is "Take route 55 to route V to route 52."  Words like "route," "trunk," or "highway" will all have the same meaning to them, and the shape and color of a route marker will largely go overlooked as well.

So mostly, all in all, I like the use of letters because it avoids overlapping route designations.  It keeps the same number from occurring twice in a small area.  Keep your county route 14's away from my state/US route 14's, etc.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #22 on: October 09, 2019, 07:00:10 PM »

Wisconsin used theirs before the blue pentagon was a thing, IIRC.  And, when in Wisconsin, as it is in Wisconsin, everything being "highway", it's easier to differentiate one level (numbers) as being state versus another (letters) being county, i.e. "Take Highway 41 to Highway X and make a right to Highway 141."

All that may be true, but it has nothing to do with a designation being "easier to remember", which is the only thing I was responding to.

And what you said may be true about blue pentagons versus white squares, but it has nothing to do with the title of this thread, which is "why Wisconsin county trunks use letters."  :bigass:  I didn't comment on how either a white square or blue pentagon might be advantageous...mostly because I don't think it really matters.

Normal non-roadgeek motorists don't look into distinguishing between route types much.  When giving or interpreting directions, all they're going to see or say is "Take route 55 to route V to route 52."  Words like "route," "trunk," or "highway" will all have the same meaning to them, and the shape and color of a route marker will largely go overlooked as well.

So mostly, all in all, I like the use of letters because it avoids overlapping route designations.  It keeps the same number from occurring twice in a small area.  Keep your county route 14's away from my state/US route 14's, etc.

The thing is, using letters doesn't avoid overlapping designations. You won't have one County A intersect another County A, but because each county set up its own system and laid out its own routes, there will be multiple County As throughout the state. Basically each county can have it's own County A, County B, etc. There are many instances where say, County A in Grant County will continue as County A into Iowa County. But you can have adjoining counties each have a County A that are separate routes that don't intersect, don't continue from one county to another, but are parallel to each other. For example, Clark County has a County A that runs east-west, and continues into Marathon County as County A. But a few miles to the north, Taylor County has its own County A that also runs east-west, but doesn't intersect the Clark-Marathon County A. So it's important to know which county you're in. Confused yet?
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #23 on: October 09, 2019, 07:07:37 PM »

The thing is, using letters doesn't avoid overlapping designations. You won't have one County A intersect another County A, but because each county set up its own system and laid out its own routes, there will be multiple County As throughout the state. Basically each county can have it's own County A, County B, etc. There are many instances where say, County A in Grant County will continue as County A into Iowa County. But you can have adjoining counties each have a County A that are separate routes that don't intersect, don't continue from one county to another, but are parallel to each other. For example, Clark County has a County A that runs east-west, and continues into Marathon County as County A. But a few miles to the north, Taylor County has its own County A that also runs east-west, but doesn't intersect the Clark-Marathon County A. So it's important to know which county you're in. Confused yet?

I mean, you still have that same problem using numbers.
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Re: why Wisconsin county trunks use letters
« Reply #24 on: October 09, 2019, 07:08:26 PM »

The solution is to have some counties use Latin letters, others use Greek letters, a third group use Cyrillic letters, and the rest CJK characters. By the four-color theorem, there should be no confusion. Some letters (like A and T) are used in multiple alphabets; these would be the ones that cross county lines.

(In reality, using numbers modulo 4 for the four groups would be much easier than letters/characters that nobody has heard of before.)
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