Interstate 94 is the primary east-west federal highway serving North Dakota, and passes through the heart of present-day Bismarck. The highway crosses the Missouri River via the Grant Marsh Bridge, which opened in 1965. It cost $13,298,586 to construct, $1.2 million of which for the bridge.
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized a network of interstate highways across the United State, including Interstate 94. The first stretch of Interstate 94 completed was between Jamestown and Valley City, in 1958. It was celebrated as the nation’s longest stretch of completed highway, with signs on each end marking the milestone.
That same year, preliminary routing plans were unveiled of the “superhighway” through Bismarck-Mandan. It was to be located a half-mile north of Divide Avenue, with spurs connecting to U.S. Highway 10. The City of Mandan contributed 10% to funding its spur line.
Previously, the highway was expected to be built four-to-five miles north of where it is ultimately constructed. The traffic flow into and out of Bismarck, as well as the local economic impact, were contributing factors in deciding to shift the route south. Indeed, there is, today, a noticeable southward shift near Sterling, likely the direct result of altering the path.
Grading work commenced in the spring of 1964, with paving soon following. The 15.3-mile highway section through Bismarck-Mandan officially opened with the dedication of the Grant Marsh Bridge on December 9th, 1965. At that time, only a segment between Bismarck and Dawson and another from Medora to the Montana border remained before the interstate was completed through the state.
Upon opening, two interchanges were completed on the Bismarck side – at U.S. Highway 83 and another at what was then called Ward Road (today considered Divide Avenue/Tyler Parkway). The original plan called for a cloverleaf interchange at Highway 83, but a diamond design was ultimately selected instead. Grade separations, or underpasses, allowed traffic to pass beneath the highway at Washington and Fourth Streets, as well as present-day Centennial, which has since been converted into an interchange. The bridge at 19th Street wouldn’t be completed until the mid-1970s.
On the Mandan side, the locations of all interchange and underpasses remain largely unchanged to this day, other than a few alterations.
The opening of Interstate 94 significantly altered traffic patterns in the area, shifting through traffic to the north and away from downtown. Previously, all east-west traffic was served by U.S. Highway 10, which ran concurrently with Main Avenue through downtown Bismarck before crossing at the Liberty Memorial Bridge into Mandan. It is arguably the single-largest contributing factor to downtown Bismarck’s desolation that lasted until the rejuvenation efforts began in the early 2000s.
Many businesses reliant on high traffic were greatly affected following the opening of Interstate 94, resulting in many closures and a flux of out migration from downtown Bismarck. Businesses located near the Liberty Memorial Bridge were similarly affected, including the former Holiday Inn. Downtown hotels, namely the historic Grand Pacific and Patterson Hotels, were also affected by the traffic shift, especially following the opening of modern hotels nearer the interstate, causing both to close in the 1970s.
When the Interstate opened, it was on the northern fringe of city limits, with little development nearby. Bismarck Junior College, Northbrook Shopping Center, and small handful of homes is all that existed within a half-mile of the highway, but its opening sparked a construction boom along the corridor. Until the completion of Kirkwood Mall in 1971, it was the city’s principle center of growth.
United Development Corporation announced the first planned development north of Interstate 94 in October 1965, Homan Acres Second Addition, a 20.66-acre tract located between Fourth and Washington Streets containing 70 residential lots. The development is noted for its “space-age” street names. The company
In the early 1970s, the point at which Interstate 94 bisects U.S. Highway 83/State Street exploded with development. Bismarck’s first modern-day discount store, Kmart, was one of the first businesses to open in the area, in addition to several hotels. Gateway Mall opened in 1979.
In the early 2000s, the area near the Grant Marsh Bridge sparked another development boom, anchored by the Pinehurst Square Shopping Center.