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Author Topic: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back  (Read 704 times)

A.J. Bertin

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Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« on: August 27, 2020, 11:54:18 PM »

I thought I'd take a bit of time to share a report on a recent road trip I took.  This past weekend (August 20-23), I drove from my home in Grand Rapids MI out to La Crosse WI for a road meet and then back.  The road meet was excellent, and I enjoyed my drive out to La Crosse (coming back, not so much).  I was able to drive some new sections of highways I'd never been on, and I snagged six new counties on this trip (five in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota).  It was a great time altogether, and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to visit and explore La Crosse for the first time.

Day 1 - The evening of Thursday, August 20: Grand Rapids MI to Joliet IL
Local roads in the Grand Rapids area -> M-6 west -> exiting on local roads to get around the closure of the westbound M-6 ramp to westbound I-196 -> I-196 west (then south, joined by U.S. 31) -> I-94 west -> I-80/94 west -> IL 394 south -> U.S. 30 west -> I-57 north -> I-80 west -> I-55 north -> U.S. 52 east to my hotel in Joliet IL for the night.

I got a later start to my drive Thursday evening than I would have preferred, but not a huge deal.  The drive went okay.  I intentionally set out to avoid all tolls on this trip (for various reasons... one of which being I didn't yet own an I-Pass transponder and didn't want to hassle with the fact that cash is pretty much not accepted anymore on the Illinois toll roads).  So to avoid the 3- or 4-mile-long stretch of toll road on I-80/294, I went down to U.S. 30 instead.  That worked out pretty well.  The timing of the lights on U.S. 30 was great and I had almost all green lights... except for maybe two or three times when I had to stop at a red light.  I arrived at my hotel at around 9:30 p.m. Central.

Day 2 - Friday, August 21: Joliet IL to La Crosse WI
U.S. 52 west -> IL 71 south -> I-80 west -> I-39/U.S. 51 north -> U.S. 20 west -> IL 26 north -> WI 69 north -> WI 92 west -> WI 78 north -> U.S. 14 west -> U.S. 14 west/U.S. 61 north to La Crosse

My drive on Friday was very pleasant and fun.  Originally, I had planned on taking U.S. 52 all the way to I-39, but unfortunately, a bridge along U.S. 52 west of IL 71 was out and so I followed the detour along IL 71.  You're driving along IL 71 south and getting farther and farther away from U.S. 52 without any reassurance that you're still following the detour.  I had expected to turn right somewhere a few miles south of U.S. 52, but no... the detour takes you all the way to I-80.  A few miles after I got on I-80, I noticed that the the detour for U.S. 52 exited I-80, but I just said "screw it" and continued along I-80 to I-39.

Then, I had originally planned on taking I-39 up to Beloit and then cutting northwest of Beloit up to U.S. 14, but then I remembered that the section of I-39 (along with I-90) outside of Rockford was tolled which is what prompted me to take U.S. 20 west of Rockford instead.  That worked out well because there was some construction happening on I-39 outside of Rockford where traffic continuing north on I-39 was really backed up... as opposed to the traffic that was going west on U.S. 20.  I got to drive through the town of New Glarus and check that out briefly... kind of a neat area.  The drive along U.S. 14 was pretty nice.  I arrived in La Crosse at around 4 or 4:30 p.m. Central.

Day 3 - Saturday, August 22: The road meet that included the La Crosse WI and Winona MN areas
Local streets/roads/highways in the La Crosse and Winona areas

The highlight of this day was, of course, the road meet tour.  I won't go into the details of what the route entailed because it would be too much to type here, but I'll just say that the meet went very well.

Day 4 - Sunday, August 23: La Crosse WI to Grand Rapids MI
Local streets/roads in La Crosse -> I-90 east -> I-90/94 east -> I-90/94 east and I-39 south -> I-94 east -> I-894 east (duplexed with U.S. 41/I-41) -> I-94 east/I-41 south/U.S. 41 south -> U.S. 41 south -> I-55 west -> I-90/94 east -> I-94 east -> I-80/94 east -> I-94 east -> I-196/U.S. 31 north -> I-196 east -> M-6 east -> Local roads to my home.

My drive home on Sunday was long and grueling.  (I just wanted to get home.)  I had a few things I was still checking out in the La Crosse area before leaving town, and so I got a later start than I'd originally wanted.  My drive across Wisconsin went fairly smoothly, but wow... the amount of traffic definitely increased when I-90 joined up with I-94 around Tomah.  Again, I was sticking with my theme of avoiding tolls which is why I took I-94 east through Milwaukee instead of staying on I-39/90 at Madison and taking the I-90 toll road in Illinois.  Until I arrived at the WI/IL state line, I'd forgotten that the section of I-94 in Illinois that's north of the Tri-State Tollway (I-294) was tolled.  (Damn... Illinois has a lot of toll roads.)

Anyway, one of the things I did along U.S. 41 was jump off in Waukegan and go to a Jewel-Osco store where I FINALLY broke down and bought an I-Pass transponder.  I'd held out for a long time on avoiding to buy one, but there were some things about this trip, and another trip I'd taken to Illinois a couple months ago, that prompted me to finally take this step.  About U.S. 41 though... I'd never driven much (if any) of U.S. 41 between Chicago and the WI/IL line, so that was kinda fun to do.  Yes, there were quite a few lights but I seemed to make fairly good time passing through those suburbs and the north side of Chicago proper.  Lakeshore Drive was definitely fun. 

Once again, I ran into a huge traffic jam on I-80/94 (the Borman Expressway) east of the Bishop Ford Freeway.  Never fails on a Sunday afternoon when I'm passing through that area trying to get home.  It took me probably more than a half hour just to get two miles.  What caused it this time?  Apparently, a semi trailer had caught fire and was taking up at least two of the right lanes on I-80/94 somewhere close to the IL/IN line.  Good gosh.

Eventually, I made it home at around 8 p.m. Eastern.  I was glad to be home, but yikes... the drive Sunday was more grueling than I'd expected it to be.  All in all, despite the Sunday drive, I loved exploring the La Crosse area for the first time.
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paulthemapguy

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2020, 11:16:20 AM »

Quote
My drive on Friday was very pleasant and fun.  Originally, I had planned on taking U.S. 52 all the way to I-39, but unfortunately, a bridge along U.S. 52 west of IL 71 was out and so I followed the detour along IL 71.  You're driving along IL 71 south and getting farther and farther away from U.S. 52 without any reassurance that you're still following the detour.  I had expected to turn right somewhere a few miles south of U.S. 52, but no... the detour takes you all the way to I-80.  A few miles after I got on I-80, I noticed that the the detour for U.S. 52 exited I-80, but I just said "screw it" and continued along I-80 to I-39.

IDOT signs their detours such that trucks can use them--they're required to use other IDOT roads as the detour route.  Counties might grant permission to use county roads, but that seldom happens.  Since I know the area really well, I could have suggested a shorter detour through the town of Wedron, a tiny town by the Fox River using some LaSalle County roads.  I was oddly enough just talking about Wedron yesterday because of the canoe rental business that's there.

And may I suggest that if you just want to get home--don't drive through the city of Chicago lol.  But it was Sunday so that would have been your best chance to clinch some city roads without hassle.  I know you were trying to avoid tolls-- the relative lack of freeways around Chicagoland makes that difficult.  If you get an EZ-Pass from another state, they have cross-compatibility with IPass, so feel free to get one wherever.  In Illinois, you can stop at any Jewel grocery store and get one.
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hbelkins

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2020, 02:46:31 PM »

A cousin of mine bird hunts in Wisconsin. He usually uses I-74 and I-39 out of Indianapolis to avoid Chicago. For a much more northern destination, like Michigan, is there any advantage to taking I-80 and I-39 vs. going through town on either I-90 or I-94?
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SEWIGuy

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2020, 07:57:56 PM »

A cousin of mine bird hunts in Wisconsin. He usually uses I-74 and I-39 out of Indianapolis to avoid Chicago. For a much more northern destination, like Michigan, is there any advantage to taking I-80 and I-39 vs. going through town on either I-90 or I-94?


Not really.

Really the Chicago area isn't terrible except for rush hour.  I have driven from Indianapolis to the Madison area numerous times and I-65, I-80, I-294, I-290, I-90 is the fastest route - unless you are hitting NW Indiana during morning or evening rush.  Especially now that I-90 between I-290 and Rockford is three lanes the entire way.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2020, 09:44:52 PM »

New Glarus is very unique, for sure. WI-78 and US-14 from Middleton to La Crosse are both very pleasant.
I believe it's only a matter of time before WI-69 is rerouted along CTH-PB to bypass Belleville. I'm sure local businesses won't be happy when that takes place.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2020, 10:51:08 PM »

A cousin of mine bird hunts in Wisconsin. He usually uses I-74 and I-39 out of Indianapolis to avoid Chicago. For a much more northern destination, like Michigan, is there any advantage to taking I-80 and I-39 vs. going through town on either I-90 or I-94?

Depends on the destination in Michigan. While you *could* use I-74 to I-39 to WI-26 to I-41 to bypass Chicago, that's a long ways out of the way to avoid tolls that aren't particularly onerous. Depending on the vehicle, you'd burn up the toll savings in extra gas.

It makes a lot more sense if the ultimate destination is Ironwood or Ontonagon, but for anywhere east of that, if Chicago is off the table, one would do better to take I-69 to US-127 to I-75. (Yes, this involves tolls on the Mackinac Bridge, but if that's a hardship, you're not making this drive anyway).

Like SEWIGuy, I make the trip across Chicago regularly. As long as you avoid rush hours and acknowledge speed limits are a suggestion, it's generally not a bad drive. ISTHA still gives you 50% off tolls for running an I-Pass or EZ-Pass; you can pay for the cost of a transponder just in the tolls saved on one trip across Chicago. At that point, shunpiking is more about the principle than the hardship of paying the tolls.
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A.J. Bertin

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2020, 10:54:55 PM »

Quote
My drive on Friday was very pleasant and fun.  Originally, I had planned on taking U.S. 52 all the way to I-39, but unfortunately, a bridge along U.S. 52 west of IL 71 was out and so I followed the detour along IL 71.  You're driving along IL 71 south and getting farther and farther away from U.S. 52 without any reassurance that you're still following the detour.  I had expected to turn right somewhere a few miles south of U.S. 52, but no... the detour takes you all the way to I-80.  A few miles after I got on I-80, I noticed that the the detour for U.S. 52 exited I-80, but I just said "screw it" and continued along I-80 to I-39.

Since I know the area really well, I could have suggested a shorter detour through the town of Wedron, a tiny town by the Fox River using some LaSalle County roads.

Thanks for chiming in, Paul!  It was actually kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision for me on Friday morning to take U.S. 52 west of Joliet.  I knew in advance that U.S. 52 had a section west of IL 71 that was closed, but I had made the incorrect assumption that a signed detour not far from U.S. 52 would be available.  (In other words, I'd had no idea beforehand that IDOT does this with its detours.)

And may I suggest that if you just want to get home--don't drive through the city of Chicago lol.  But it was Sunday so that would have been your best chance to clinch some city roads without hassle.  I know you were trying to avoid tolls-- the relative lack of freeways around Chicagoland makes that difficult.  If you get an EZ-Pass from another state, they have cross-compatibility with IPass, so feel free to get one wherever.  In Illinois, you can stop at any Jewel grocery store and get one.

It was actually an incident that had taken place two months beforehand (when I was driving to Rock Falls IL for the Sauk Valley road meet) that prompted me to avoid tolls on this trip... and then it was my perhaps ridiculous avoidance of tolls that prompted me to make the decision to finally buy the I-Pass transponder.  I ended up stopping at a Jewel-Osco in Waukegan Sunday afternoon and picked one up.
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A.J. Bertin

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2020, 10:58:44 PM »

Like SEWIGuy, I make the trip across Chicago regularly. As long as you avoid rush hours and acknowledge speed limits are a suggestion, it's generally not a bad drive. ISTHA still gives you 50% off tolls for running an I-Pass or EZ-Pass; you can pay for the cost of a transponder just in the tolls saved on one trip across Chicago. At that point, shunpiking is more about the principle than the hardship of paying the tolls.

The reason I shunpiked on this most recent trip had nothing to do with any financial hardship.  It was the principle of it... and my disappointment with not being able to use cash to pay for the tolls.  But now that I've finally broken down and bought an I-Pass transponder, it will be a non-issue going forward.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2020, 11:51:45 AM »

If you think Shunpiking through Illinois is difficult, don't try to do it in Florida or Texas.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2020, 09:05:38 AM »

Like SEWIGuy, I make the trip across Chicago regularly. As long as you avoid rush hours and acknowledge speed limits are a suggestion, it's generally not a bad drive. ISTHA still gives you 50% off tolls for running an I-Pass or EZ-Pass; you can pay for the cost of a transponder just in the tolls saved on one trip across Chicago. At that point, shunpiking is more about the principle than the hardship of paying the tolls.

The reason I shunpiked on this most recent trip had nothing to do with any financial hardship.  It was the principle of it... and my disappointment with not being able to use cash to pay for the tolls.  But now that I've finally broken down and bought an I-Pass transponder, it will be a non-issue going forward.


I fully support toll roads if they are better.  And IMO the toll roads in NE Illinois are way better than the free ones. 
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paulthemapguy

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2020, 09:41:30 AM »

I fully support toll roads if they are better.  And IMO the toll roads in NE Illinois are way better than the free ones.

That's no joke.  The toll roads are immaculate compared to the freeways in District 1.

A.J., I'll be interested to see all the states where you end up using your new IPass.  Here are the states you can use it, since IPass is compatible with the EZ-Pass system:

Quote from: turnpikeinfo.com
States connected to the E-ZPass system include Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia. Additionally, portions of Florida are also compatible with E-ZPass.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2020, 11:10:45 AM »

(In other words, I'd had no idea beforehand that IDOT does this with its detours.)

Not just IDOT, but most other states where I've encountered detours will sign them on state highways. And not just any state highways, but highways of similar quality to the one that's closed. Indiana does that; so does Kentucky. Local drivers generally know if there are unsigned detour routes they can use, but out-of-area travelers are the ones to which the signs cater. It's been my experience that states are loathe to route traffic onto locally-maintained roads.

I drove myself crazy trying to follow an unsigned detour on US 27 in Indiana years ago.
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A.J. Bertin

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2020, 07:22:08 AM »

I drove myself crazy trying to follow an unsigned detour on US 27 in Indiana years ago.

This reminds me a little bit of a solo county-collecting trip I took in 2017 which allowed me to snag a whole bunch of new counties in southeast Indiana, northern Kentucky, and southern Ohio. I was a bit too ambitious on the first day of my drive through Indiana, to begin with, but added to that was the stress of a bunch of road closures on Indiana's State Roads causing me to go on all sorts of detours in a single day. The difference between my experience and yours was that the detours I followed were all signed, but anytime I think of detours in Indiana, I can't help but think of the first (annoying) day of that trip I took.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2020, 07:55:42 AM »

I drove myself crazy trying to follow an unsigned detour on US 27 in Indiana years ago.

This reminds me a little bit of a solo county-collecting trip I took in 2017 which allowed me to snag a whole bunch of new counties in southeast Indiana, northern Kentucky, and southern Ohio. I was a bit too ambitious on the first day of my drive through Indiana, to begin with, but added to that was the stress of a bunch of road closures on Indiana's State Roads causing me to go on all sorts of detours in a single day. The difference between my experience and yours was that the detours I followed were all signed, but anytime I think of detours in Indiana, I can't help but think of the first (annoying) day of that trip I took.

The good news is that Indiana is very proactive in taking care of its state highways. The bad news is that, as a result, the state is littered with road closures from May-September. As you approach a road closure on a state highway, the last intersection with another signed highway will have a sign indicating "ROAD CLOSED X.X MILES AHEAD  LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY" and a signed detour along other signed highways. If you pretend that you're local traffic and continue on, you'll be able to continue on to the last local/county road before the closure, where you will encounter a physical barrier and another "ROAD CLOSED" sign. In most cases, especially if you're in the northern half of the state, you can just slide over a mile on the county road and follow a parallel county road past the closure. If the road is well-traveled, you will likely be behind knowledgeable locals whom you can follow around the closure.

I take 1-2 day trips per month to clinch highway mileage, and I've taken to checking out INDOT's website when planning my route to avoid closures, or at least ones that aren't easy to get around.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2020, 02:51:44 PM »

I drove myself crazy trying to follow an unsigned detour on US 27 in Indiana years ago.

This reminds me a little bit of a solo county-collecting trip I took in 2017 which allowed me to snag a whole bunch of new counties in southeast Indiana, northern Kentucky, and southern Ohio. I was a bit too ambitious on the first day of my drive through Indiana, to begin with, but added to that was the stress of a bunch of road closures on Indiana's State Roads causing me to go on all sorts of detours in a single day. The difference between my experience and yours was that the detours I followed were all signed, but anytime I think of detours in Indiana, I can't help but think of the first (annoying) day of that trip I took.

The good news is that Indiana is very proactive in taking care of its state highways. The bad news is that, as a result, the state is littered with road closures from May-September. As you approach a road closure on a state highway, the last intersection with another signed highway will have a sign indicating "ROAD CLOSED X.X MILES AHEAD  LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY" and a signed detour along other signed highways. If you pretend that you're local traffic and continue on, you'll be able to continue on to the last local/county road before the closure, where you will encounter a physical barrier and another "ROAD CLOSED" sign. In most cases, especially if you're in the northern half of the state, you can just slide over a mile on the county road and follow a parallel county road past the closure. If the road is well-traveled, you will likely be behind knowledgeable locals whom you can follow around the closure.

I take 1-2 day trips per month to clinch highway mileage, and I've taken to checking out INDOT's website when planning my route to avoid closures, or at least ones that aren't easy to get around.


I can attest to that!  A few years ago, I took US-421 from NW Indiana to Indianapolis, basically because it was the only route I *hadn't* taken between the two.  There was road construction with a LONG detour near Delphi, but I decided to follow the flow of the traffic thinking it was locals, and it ended up saving me about 15-20 minutes.
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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to La Crosse WI and back
« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2020, 11:26:52 PM »

Once again, I ran into a huge traffic jam on I-80/94 (the Borman Expressway) east of the Bishop Ford Freeway.  Never fails on a Sunday afternoon when I'm passing through that area trying to get home.  It took me probably more than a half hour just to get two miles.  What caused it this time?  Apparently, a semi trailer had caught fire and was taking up at least two of the right lanes on I-80/94 somewhere close to the IL/IN line.  Good gosh.

About par for the course on the Borman.  Busy, traffic from all over with different driving styles, a shitload of trucks...nah, no way there'd be any problems.

I've driven many places, LA, Miami, the Northeast, Seattle, and yet the only freeway I really feel like I'm taking my life into my own hands, and seriously fear for it, is I-80/94 from South Holland to Lake Station.
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