Alignment: Manitoba border (MB-75) at Pembina to South Dakota border (US-81) south of Hankinson
Distance: 246 miles
Freeway: Entire route (co-sign with I-29), except from Joliette to Manvel, and through Grand Forks and Fargo
NHS: Entire route
Intersecting Interstates: I-29 at Joliette and Manvel; I-94 at Fargo
Multiplexing: Shared alignment with I-29 from the Canadian border to near Joliette, and from Manvel to the South Dakota border (except through Grand Forks and Fargo)
Port of Entry: Pembina (24 hours); Pembina Municipal Airport; Grand Forks International Airport; Hector International Airport (Fargo)
History and Notes: Previously known as the "Meridian Highway", US-81 was an original 1926 highway. The original alignment was generally along I-29, except for the segment from Wahpeton to the South Dakota border, which followed the current ND-127. This southern segment was realigned in the late 1970's after completion of I-29 in the area.
North Dakota native Ryan Fisher provided me with the following information about US-81:
U.S. 81--"Old 81" in N.D. parlance... Remains almost completely unbroken border-to-border...a real treat for the "roadgeek." Just a small stretch from north of Grand Forks to Manvel was dismantled and replaced with I-29. Unfortunately, U.S. 81's former alignment from the N.D. 5 to Pembina has been all but left to ruin. Thank Pembina County (my birthplace) for that.
In Grand Forks prior to the 1950s, U.S. 81's alignment followed the "Mill Road", passing by the State Mill and Elevator (ahhh, prairie socialism at its zenith!) and continued on into Grand Forks. I'm pretty sure (don't quote me on this) that it followed Belmont Road out of town until South Washington Street was upgraded to four lanes.
Parts of Old 81 have been interrupted in the Fargo area. When the 19th Avenue North railroad underpass was built, 81 lost its smooth curve eastward onto 19th Avenue immediately south of the airport. When 81 became 19th Avenue, it was taken down from grade to street level, which was a bad move, in my opinion. The combination of flat, windswept ground and a curb-and-gutter street in the middle of nowhere make 19th pretty treacherous in the winter.
81 was also routed into one way streets through much of Fargo in the 70s. There used to be a smooth curve southward from 19th onto University Drive as 81 made its final approach into Fargo. When the one ways were established, a regular intersection was put into place at 19th and University, but until the Fargodome was built, evergreen trees still marked the path of the old curve.
As for the one ways, University Drive is southbound, and 10th Street is northbound. This continues to 13th Avenue South, where the twain meet and continue along the historic route.
81's concrete panel surfacing has been sloppily overlaid with asphalt in past twenty years. Cass County has the last remaining stretches of this surfacing north and south of Fargo. South of Fargo, much of it has been eaten up by the new University Drive, which extends at street level not quite all the way to 52nd Avenue South. I still relish the sections of concrete panel that remain; its rhythmic "clup, clup, clup, clup" remind me of many a childhood automotive excursion.
Attractions Along the Way: Pembina State Museum (Pembina);
North Dakota Museum of Art (Grand Forks);
Dakota Science Center (Grand Forks);
KVLY-TV tower, North America's tallest structure (Blanchard);
Bonanzaville USA (Fargo);
Roger Maris Baseball Museum (Fargo);
Plains Art Museum (Fargo);
Childrens Museum at Yunker Farm (Fargo);
Fargo Air Museum (Fargo);
Bagg Bonanza Farm (Mooreton)
Follow US-81 Across: