ROCK SPRINGS — Get off the interstate and hit the two-lane.
The ironic part of that statement is that both highways are related. Interstate 80 came about thanks to the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, one of the most important in a series of laws designed to expand the United States’ system of roadways.
Nov. 11 will be the 91st anniversary of the adoption of the numbered system. The roads that evolved literally became trips down memory lane years after the interstate’s creation. The most famous example is U.S. Highway 66.
In Sweetwater County, the Lincoln Highway, the predecessor to the shielded system, became U.S. 30 while U.S. 187, the precursor to U.S. 191 in Rock Springs and Eden Valley became a route for people to take to Jackson.
To honor the anniversary, let’s take a look at how the numbered system came to be.
The push for good roads
The decision to adopt the U.S. highway numbered system did not happen overnight.
In the late 19th century, farmers and the League of American Wheelmen, a group of bicyclists, began requesting improved road surfaces to either recreate on or more efficiently bring crops to the markets.
Their push helped spawn the Good Roads Movement.
The movement saw strong arguments between those who advocated for federal involvement in constructing roads and those who felt states and counties should shoulder the responsibility.
Starting in 1916, however, a few laws were enacted that would alter the road building relationship between the federal government and states.
The Federal-Aid Act of 1916, signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, allocated $75 million in matching funds to the states. The law also resulted in states creating their own highway departments. Wyoming’s was established in 1917.
In May 1918, a publication dedicated to the construction of roads, Public Roads, made its initial appearance.
“With increasing interest among the state highway officials in the federal-aid road act and the rapidly spreading desire to apply the benefits of this act to the roads of their states it becomes necessary to preserve a progress report of the projects under it,” Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering Director Logan Waller Page said in the publication.
As the county progressed into the 1920s, several million people were riding around in automobiles. Combine that with the fact some considered auto trails to be unorganized and confusing, and the time was ripe for a change.
The Phipps Act or Federal-Aid Act of 1921 paved the way for the establishment of a national highway system. The U.S. Bureau of Public Roads began working with states in creating a new system. In 1925, a comprehensive map of the system was established and on Nov. 11, 1926, it was adopted by the American Association of State Highway Officials. Signs were developed beginning in 1927.
Grub’s Drive-In co-owner Marcy Skorup said the new system “was more efficient because you can follow a U.S. 30 sign rather than go through Pilot Butte (Avenue) or Ninth Street the way they had it going through Rock Springs.”
U.S. Highway 30 follows or runs along the Lincoln Highway in Sweetwater County. It enters Creston Junction on the county’s eastern terminus and leaves near Granger on the west end.
Over the course of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, mom-and-pop establishments cropped up along the roadside. Places like the Broadway Café in Wamsutter opened in 1940 and for years it served locals, travelers and truckers. The place still stands, but it is up for sale.
Red Desert and Table Rock no longer have operating businesses, but U.S. 30 is still there. Abandoned buildings remain including an old Sinclair filling station roadside advertisement that can be seen off I-80 on the south side of the highway in Table Rock.
Further west in Point of Rocks, Jack’s Coffee Shop no longer stands, but residents can still enjoy a sandwich and soda pop at Varley Mercantile.
As U.S. 30 continues into Rock Springs, it “skirts rocky ledges through a region of scrubby sage and low-growing greasewood. Far ahead, a prominent butte shows through a gap; emigrants used it as a landmark,” according to “The Works Progress Administration’s Guide to Wyoming: The Cowboy State.”
Today, residents can take 30 starting at Ninth Street and stop for the night at the Springs Motel and/or enjoy a Shamrock Deluxe (cheeseburger with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion) at Grub’s Drive-In.
Skorup said Grub’s, which opened in 1946, “definitely benefitted from the traffic coming through.”
The route proceeded to go down Pilot Butte Avenue before turning left then making a right on K Street and another right onto North Front Street. At the Park Hotel, the route went left down C Street, which can now be accessed through the underground tunnel, then after proceeding to Second Street and going right onto A Street before another right onto Blair Avenue.
Another route goes from Pilot Butte Avenue through Center Street and down Dewar Drive before it heads west at Sunset Drive.
Both routes will lead to Cruel Jack’s.
The 1954 alignment of U.S. 30 between Rock Springs and Green River is where I-80 eastbound lanes lie, Wyoming Department of Transportation Highway Specialist David Fedrizzi said.
Green River and beyond
In Green River, the highway begins on East Second North Street before going right onto Flaming Gorge Way. People could see the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, Sweetwater County Courthouse and Desmond Motel until it reaches Wyoming Highway 374. The road, which was once a part of the Lincoln Highway, can be taken straight to Little America.
At Little America, travelers need to take the interstate until Exit 66. The highway for many years was split. U.S. 30 South would continue on to Salt Lake City while 30 North, the modern route, heads northwest.
Motorists today can either take the new U.S. 30 to Wyoming 375 and make a left to get to Granger or go onto Sweetwater County Road 2, or Old Little America Road, and take that to Sweetwater County Road 16, which is the older U.S. 30.
Much of U.S. 191 evolved from U.S. 187, which formed in 1926 as a branch route from U.S. 87 West, now U.S. 287, from Jackson Lake Junction south to Rock Springs, Fedrizzi said.
Portions of 187 can be traveled down Yellowstone Road in Rock Springs and along stretches south of Eden Valley, he said.
The route changed to U.S. 191 in 1961 because of a federal order that there must be a highway that runs from Canada to Mexico. U.S. 191 ran from by the turnoff to the Big Sandy Reservoir to Rock Springs on Elk Street before going down the Blairtown Connector Road, or Sweetwater County Road 51. Today, it no longer goes through Blairtown. Instead, people have to take I-80 from Exit 104 to Exit 99, where they can go down 191 to the Utah line.
Officials considered the creation of U.S. 789 as part of a proposed Canada to Mexico highway. The route would have stretched from Nogales, Arizona, to Sweetgrass, Montana, but it was rejected by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, according to the AA Roads website.
The 789 designation was taken away in every state on the route except for Wyoming, where it became a state highway. Only a small piece of the route touches the county.
The federal government looked at an interstate system during the Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, but World War II halted the movement. However, after World War II when the automobile craze proliferated across the nation, it returned to the forefront. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which expanded the interstate system once again.
Over time, as the interstate was completed, U.S. highways either expanded, were bypassed or relegated as a business route. Grub’s Drive-In is part of a increasingly rare breed of mom-and-pop establishments that sit along older alignments. Many businesses opened during the post-war boom, but as alignments changed many businesses either relocated or shut down.
Grub’s sits on the east side of Rock Springs on the original alignment of U.S. 30. It sits away from chain filled Dewar Drive. However, it does not mean the end is near.
“We still get some people on the east side,” Skorup said. “Not everyone likes chains.”
Fedrizzi said the U.S. highway system will live on despite being relocated or bypassed thanks to the interstate.
If people want to go someplace, they go in their own car, they go out there and do it, he said.
“I think we have plenty of legacy with private routes and automobiles,” he said.