U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
202-366-4000


Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Highway History

U.S. 2: Houlton, Maine, to Everett, Washington

The Joint Board on Interstate Highways, consisting of officials of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads and State highway agencies, created the U.S. numbered highway system in 1925. Under this system, east-west routes were given an even number; north-south routes, an odd number. The major east-west routes were given the multiple-of-ten numbers, such as 10, 20, and 30 in descending order from north to south.

With enough major east-west routes to use all available two-digit numbers ending in zero, the Joint Board wanted to avoid designating the northernmost route U.S. 0. The members agreed that the east-west route along the northern border with Canada would be designated U.S. 2. The Joint Board's description of U.S. 2 was:

From Houlton, Maine, to Calais, Bangor, Rumford Falls, Lancaster, New Hampshire, Montpelier, Vermont, Burlington, Rouses Point, New York, and from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, to St. Ignace, Crystal Falls, Bessemer, Duluth, Minnesota, Bemidji, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Devils Lake, Minot, Williston, Havre, Montana, Belton, Bonners Ferry, Idaho [Emphasis added]

Under this plan, U.S. 2 was divided, with the route ending in Rouses Point at the Canadian border, but reemerging at Sault Sainte Marie.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture submitted the plan for U.S. numbered highways to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), which represented the States that owned and operated the routes proposed for inclusion. During 1926, AASHO considered over 140 proposals to change the U.S. numbered system. As a result of AASHO's actions, U.S. 2 changed only in one notable way. It retained the eastern terminus of Houlton, Maine, but the segment of U.S. 2 from Houlton-to-Calais-to-Bangor was shifted to U.S. 1.

When AASHO published the first official log the U.S. numbered highways, the log described U.S. 2 as:

U.S. Highway No. 2
Total Mileage: 2,409

Maine. Beginning at the United States-Canadian International Boundary east of Houlton via Houlton, Island Falls, Macwohoc, Lincoln, Bangor, Newport, Pittsfield, Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Farmington, Wilton, Rumford, Bethel to the Maine-New Hampshire State line west of Bethel.

New Hampshire. Beginning at the Maine-New Hampshire State line west of Bethel via Gorham, Lancaster to the New Hampshire-Vermont State line at Town of Guildhall.

Vermont. Beginning at the New Hampshire-Vermont State line at Town of Guildhall via St. Johnsbury, Wells River, Barre, Montpelier, Burlington, Grand Isle to the New York State line east of Rouses Point.

Michigan. Beginning again at Sault Sainte Marie via Pickford, St. Ignace, Manistique, Escanaba, Powers to the Michigan-Wisconsin State line near Iron Mountain; and from the Michigan-Wisconsin State line near Florence via Crystal Falls, Watersmeet to the Michigan-Wisconsin State line east of Hurley.

Wisconsin. Beginning at the Michigan-Wisconsin State line near Iron Mountain to the Michigan-Wisconsin State line near Florence and from the Michigan-Wisconsin State line east of Hurley via Ashland to Superior.

Minnesota. Beginning at Duluth via Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Bagley, Crookston, East Grand Forks on the Minnesota-North Dakota State line at Grand Forks.

North Dakota. Beginning at Grand Forks on the Minnesota-North Dakota State line via Larimore, Niagara, Devils Lake, Rugby, Towner, Minot, Stanley, Ray, Williston to the North Dakota-Montana State line west of Williston.

Montana. Beginning at the North Dakota-Montana State line east of Culbertson via Glasgow, Havre, Shelby, Browning, Glacier Park Station, Belton, Kalispell, Libby to the Montana-Idaho State line west of Leonia.

Idaho. Beginning at the Montana-Idaho State line west of Leonia to Bonners Ferry.

(In Michigan, U.S. 2 briefly slipped into Wisconsin between Iron Mountain and Florence.)

The route remained stable for many years. On June 22, 1932, AASHO's Executive Committee approved a proposal by Maine highway officials to reroute U.S. 2 by omitting Pittsfield. With this change, U.S. 2 went directly from Newport to Skowhegan.

However, in January 1946, AASHO's U.S. Route Numbering Committee considered a proposal by Idaho and Washington State to extend U.S. 2 to Everett. The proposal read:

WASHINGTON-IDAHO:

Requests extension of U.S. Route No. 2 from Bonners Ferry, Idaho west to Everett on Puget Sound, Washington, by way of Spokane, over presently designated U.S. 10-Alternate. Further, that U.S. No. 10-Alternate be routed from Sandpoint south, to an intersection with U.S. 10 in the vicinity of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, eliminating Alternate U.S. 10 in the State of Washington and rerouting U.S. 10-Alternate in Idaho to make the routing common with U.S. 95, from Sandpoint to Coeur D'Alene and terminating at its junction with U.S. 10.

The notations on the committee agenda indicate that the proposal was "carried" by the committee and the AASHO Executive Committee. However, the carried motion did not go into effect. The reason is unknown. The motion resurfaced when the U.S. Route Numbering Committee met on December 20, 1946. The agenda item for consideration by the U.S. Route Numbering Committee read:

U.S. Route 2 is extended from Bonners Ferry, Idaho west to Everett on Puget Sound, Washington, via Sandpoint, Newport and Spokane, over presently designated U.S. 10-Alternate. U.S. 10-Alternate is routed from Sandpoint south, to an intersection with U.S. 10 in the vicinity of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. U.S. 10-Alternate is eliminated in the State of Washington and is re-routed in the State of Idaho over the present U.S. 95 from Sandpoint to Coeur D'Alene, terminating there at its junction with U.S. 10.

This time, the extension was approved by the committee and AASHO's Executive Committee and was announced to mapmakers.

Today, U.S. 2 retains it extended termini, from east of Houlton, Maine, to Everett, Washington, at a junction with I-5. As was true from the start, the east section of U.S. 2 ends in Rouses Point, New York. The eastern terminus of the west section was changed to St. Ignace. Michigan proposed this change ("Eliminate the U.S. Route 2 designation between Sault St. Marie and St. Ignace") in time for the Route Numbering Committee's meeting on June 20, 1983, but action was withheld. At its next meeting on October 1, 1983, the committee approved the shift, which AASHO's Executive Committee approved the following day. The route is shown in the most recent log published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials as being 2,643 miles long.

As with many of the original U.S. routes, U.S. 2 occupied routes that had previously been part of named trails. For most of its length, U.S. 2 replaced the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, a named trail from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, via Canada. The two routes coincided in part of Vermont and in the western portion, with a few short variations, through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington.

The death of former President Roosevelt on January 6, 1919, inspired a number of trail associations to designate routes in his honor. The Theodore Roosevelt International Highway grew out of that same impulse. The backing association was organized by interests in Duluth, Minnesota, on February 17, 1919, a little over a month after the former President's death. An article in the Roosevelt Highway Bulletin on October 27, 1921, explained the goals of the association in an article titled "America's Leading Highway":

The Theodore Roosevelt International Highway Association is an organization brought into being for the purpose of creating a suitable memorial to one of America's greatest builders and statesmen, and at the same time promote tourist travel to a section of the United States that has had few tourists in the past.

Another association pamphlet, also published in 1921, contained a more colorful blurb:

It is fortunate that the initials "T.R.," which for a long period in American history had a magic power over men, women and children in the United States, will still live and lead in connection with the International Highway which is dedicated to the memory and influence of Theodore Roosevelt.

When the traveler sees the marker "T.R." in white upon a red ground between two white bands, he knows that he is on the highway which leads from Portland to Portland, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Oregon to Maine.

It is indeed a Rooseveltian highway, not merely national but international, passing through Roosevelt's native state, through other states where he worked and played, states whose history, spirit and scenery had a special appeal from the Roosevelt of "The Strenuous Life," the Roosevelt of "American Ideals."

The pamphlet added that a trip on the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway was "A Pilgrimage for Every Patriotic American, Every Lover of Nature, Every Admirer of Theodore Roosevelt."

Several other named trails used roadways that became part of U.S. 2. These included parts of the George Washington Memorial Highway and the National Park-to-Park Highway.

In addition, U.S. 2 took over segments of the National Parks Highway. This was a named trail from Chicago, Illinois to Seattle, Washington. The highway was established in 1916. The purpose of the highway can be inferred from the following comments by Frank W. Gilbert, Secretary of the National Parks Highway Association, in the 1918 Tours Number of Northwestern Motorist:

Automobile tourist traffic over the National Parks Highway for the year 1917 was easily double that recorded for 1916. It was estimated . . . that at least 5,000 cars, covering a distance of an average of at least 1,000 miles, used the National Parks Highway during 1916 . . . . The officials of the National Parks Highway Association . . . believe that no less than 10,000 cars, using the highway for at least 1,000 miles, is a conservative estimate for the year 1917 just closing.

If these figures are anywhere near correct . . . it means that the tourist trade brought to the Northwestern states through the medium of motor vehicles alone has equaled 30,000 persons, as the cars average three passengers to the car, including the driver, and the government bases its estimates on expenditures by tourists at $4 per day per person. Assuming that each of the 10,000 cars has spent twenty days in Montana, Northern Idaho and Washington, there has been a total expenditure in this territory by these motorists over this one highway alone of $2,400,000 . . . .

Is there any argument stronger than the dollar and cents argument as to the necessity for constantly keeping before the prospective tourists of the East and Middle West the unequalled opportunities for pleasure driving offered by the "Summer Playground of America," which includes Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Maps of the National Parks Highway show varying routes. Most maps show that the National Parks Highway and U.S. 2 coincided from Kalispell, Montana, through Wenatchee, Washington. Other maps show the named trail continuing to Everett via the line of U.S. 2. (Some maps suggest the Everett portion of the highway was a branch, with the main line ending in Seattle.)

Updated: 10/17/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000