U.S. Route 61 (US 61) is the official designation for a major United States highway which extends 1,400 miles (2,300 km) between New Orleans, Louisiana and the city of Wyoming, Minnesota. The highway generally follows the course of the Mississippi River, and is designated the Great River Road for much of its route. As of 2004, the highway's northern terminus in Wyoming, Minnesota, is at an intersection with Interstate 35 (I-35). Until 1991, the highway extended north on what is now Minnesota State Highway 61 (MN 61) through Duluth to the Canada–U.S. border near Grand Portage. Its southern terminus in New Orleans, Louisiana, is at an intersection with Tulane Avenue at South Broad Street. The highway is often called the Blues Highway because it connects Saint Paul, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; the Mississippi Delta, and New Orleans.
The route was an important south-north connection in the days before the interstate highway system. Many southerners traveled north along US 61 while going to St. Louis and Saint Paul.
The highway has a long musical history, being the supposed location where singer-songwriter Robert Johnson made a deal with the Devil for his successes. The road later gave its name to Minnesota native Bob Dylan's album Highway 61 Revisited, and in the song of the same name, which imagines all sorts of fantastical events (including World War III) occurring alongside it. Other notable songs of the name include a blues song recorded in 1957 by Sunnyland Slim; one in 1962 by Johnny Young; and a 1981 song, 61 Highway, by bluesman James "Son" Thomas.
The section of US 61 from New Orleans to Baton Rouge is known as the Airline Highway. Although the road fronts the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and passes near Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, the name originally referred to the highway's straight route which contrasted to that of the winding Jefferson Highway, which often paralleled the Mississippi River. Legend has it former Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long advocated the building of the "airline" highway to provide a quick means from the capitol building in Baton Rouge to the bars and establishments in New Orleans so he could quickly travel between the two. On Airline Highway in Jefferson Parish in 1987, Baton Rouge televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was confronted by rival preacher Marvin Gorman as Swaggart exited the Texas Motel with a prostitute. This incident increased the area's reputation as a locale of "seedy motels". Partly because of that reputation, the section in Jefferson Parish was later renamed Airline Drive.
US 61 is divided from the Tennessee state line to US 82 in Leland. The highway south of Vicksburg to Natchez is mostly divided and four-lane; only short sections through Port Gibson need to be upgraded. From Natchez to the Louisiana state line, US 61 is now divided and four lanes. The Mississippi Department of Transportation is now upgrading the highway between Vicksburg and Leland to four lanes, beginning with replacement of the Yazoo River bridge at Redwood in Warren County.
The road is also known as the Blues Highway because it runs through the Mississippi Delta country, which was an important source of blues music. Highway 61 has been referenced in music by various artists with roots in the region.
The junction of US 61 and US 49 in Clarksdale is designated as the famous crossroads where, according to legend, Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for mastery of the blues. It was on this stretch of highway that blues singer Bessie Smith died as a result of a car accident on September 26, 1937.
Like Route 66 in the Western U.S., the iconic US 61 sign is so strongly identified with the Clarksdale area that it is used to market different products and services. US 61 is defined in Mississippi Code Annotated § 65-3-3.
US 61 runs through the state for 76 miles (122 km) from West Memphis to just north of Blytheville, near the Missouri border.
The route enters Arkansas in a concurrency with I-55 and US 64, US 70, and US 79 near West Memphis. The route skirts the northwest edge of the city, briefly meeting Interstate 40 before continuing north with I-55, US 63, and US 64. US 61 overlaps I-55 until an area near Turrell, when US 61 branches east but still parallels I-55. The route runs through many small towns in Mississippi County, and becomes a city street in Osceola. Continuing north, the route crosses over I-55 south of Blytheville. In the city, US 61 becomes South Division St. until crossing Main Street (AR 18). The route runs north through the rest of Blytheville and beyond until a junction with AR 150 near Yarbro. After this junction, the route continues due north to Missouri.
US 61 enters Missouri south of Steele, passing under a concrete arch that was constructed by the Mississippi County, Arkansas highway department in 1924. The alignment of the highway is closely followed by I-55 between there and the St. Louis area, with portions of the two highways overlapping. Between Howardville and Sikeston, US 61 overlaps with US 62. At Sikeston, US 61 also meets US 60. Crossing Route 32 at the "one of the oldest French Colonial settlements west of the Mississippi River (1735)", Ste. Genevieve, the road continues through Ste. Genevieve County. The highway then turns northwest and meets US 67. The two highways overlap until separating in the St. Louis area at Ladue, where US 61 meets I-64 and US 40, just north of the junction of US 61 and Old Route 66 (now Route 100), located in Kirkwood, which is referred to locally as "the rock 'n roll crossroads of America". While in the St. Louis area, US 61 is on Lindbergh Boulevard.
After meeting I-64 and US 40, US 61 turns west with them and its overlap with the Avenue of the Saints begins. At Wentzville, the overlap with I-64 and US 40 ends when it meets I-70, with the former ending at I-70. It continues in a general northwesterly route, meeting US 54 at Bowling Green and US 36 and I-72 at Hannibal, an intersection which is I-72's western terminus. Northwest of Hannibal, US 61 meets US 24 and the two overlap until they separate at Taylor. US 61 continues north until near Wayland, where the highway turns east at Route 27 and the overlap with the Avenue of the Saints ends. Shortly before leaving Missouri, US 61 meets US 136 and the two overlap until entering Iowa.
US 61 enters Iowa overlapped with US 136 near Keokuk. They separate in Keokuk and US 61 turns north there and meets US 218 in northwestern Keokuk. They overlap for 6 miles (9.7 km), then US 218 turns northwest. US 61 goes north until crossing Iowa 2 and becomes a four-lane freeway bypass around Fort Madison. US 61 then turns northeast and meets US 34 in Burlington. The highway goes north and overlaps Iowa 92 from Grandview to Muscatine. At Muscatine, the highway turns east to go towards the Quad Cities. At Davenport, US 61 follows I-280 and I-80 around Davenport and meets up with Business 61.
After I-80, the highway turns back north as a freeway until De Witt, which is where it meets US 30. It continues north from there to Dubuque as an expressway except for a freeway section in the Maquoketa area. The highway joins with US 151 about six miles (9.7 km) south of Dubuque. US 61 and US 151 are joined in Dubuque by US 52, which separates in downtown Dubuque. Also in Dubuque, a short connecting highway links US 52, US 61, and US 151 with US 20. Together, US 61 and US 151 continue through Dubuque, where they cross the Mississippi River and enter Wisconsin via the Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge.
The 61 Drive In, one of the few drive-in theaters left in the nation, is located along US 61. The theater is located about five miles (8.0 km) south of Maquoketa, near exit 153 (the Delmar/Lost Nation exit). Another drive-in theater is located outside of Grandview and can be seen from US 61 just north of Grandview.
A four-lane freeway bypass of Fort Madison was completed and opened to traffic in November 2011. An ongoing project to upgrade a five-mile (8.0 km) segment between the Louisa–Muscatine county line near Letts and the south junction of Iowa 92 near Grandview to a four-lane expressway was completed in December 2017. The remaining segments between Iowa 92 and Burlington, and between the north end of the Keokuk bypass and the Missouri state line have not been programmed yet by the Iowa DOT.
On the opposite bank of the Mississippi, US 61 and US 151 enter Grant County, Wisconsin, with US 61 going north through Wisconsin about 120 miles (190 km) to La Crosse. US 151 separates from US 61 at Dickeyville, with US 61 proceeding through Lancaster, Fennimore, and Boscobel. At Readstown US 61 and US 14 join and proceed together to La Crosse.
In 2004, a new two-lane Mississippi River Bridge opened in La Crosse, creating a four-lane highway from downtown La Crosse to the Minnesota state line. The new bridge brings traffic into La Crosse, and is located just south of the old Cass Street Bridge which continues to be used by traffic heading towards Minnesota.
The four-lane highway continues north to La Crescent. US 61 follows the Mississippi River through southeast Minnesota through the cities of Winona, Lake City, and Red Wing. It crosses the river at Hastings using the Hastings High Bridge and joins US 10 before entering St. Paul. Within the city, the route follows I-94 for a short distance, and then follows Mounds Boulevard, East 7th Street, and Arcade Street through the east side of St. Paul.
The portion of US 61 north of Duluth is now part of the Minnesota State Highway system, bearing the designation MN 61 since 1991. Between the city of Wyoming and Duluth, the highway has been turned back to local jurisdiction or supplanted by I-35.
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US 61 once ran 1,714 miles (2,758 km) from New Orleans through Duluth, Minnesota all the way to the Canada–US border. The road has been shortened to 1,400 miles (2,300 km) ending now in the city of Wyoming, Minnesota at an intersection with I-35.
The northern section of US 61 in Minnesota was separated when I-35 was constructed, and decommissioned in 1991.
The section of US 61 in northwestern Mississippi, between the state line and Clarksdale, has received considerable upgrades since 1990, when casinos were legalized by the state, in concert with expanding suburban development from Memphis into Mississippi. The resulting boom in casino development in Tunica County, coupled with dramatic population and development growth in DeSoto County south of Memphis has led to relocating most of the highway and expanding to a divided four-lane highway.
The present-day course of US 61 south of St. Louis largely follows the original course of the Spanish colonial road El Camino Real. In 1776, when the Spanish lieutenant governor recognized that the two principal communities of St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve needed an overland connection, he wrote his superior requesting permission. Construction then began, with parts of the Spanish road following old Indian trails. The road had been reportedly constructed by 1779, and then extended further south to the provincial posts at Cape Girardeau and New Madrid, and extended northwest to the post of St. Charles. The sole rationale for the Camino Real was a military road to connect the several district posts for defense and administrative purposes. Much of the road was a simple trace for horses and foot travelers, and by 1796 transport large enough to require the use of wagons was largely being moved up the Mississippi River.
The original Spanish name el camino real was conferred by Colonel George Morgan in honor of Charles IV of Spain, the reigning King of Spain (1788-1808). The government road was known as le Chemin du Roi or Rue Royale by the local French-speaking population and known as King's Highway or the old King's Trace by early American settlers. Because the road led to the French colonial "Illinois Country", which also included parts of present-day Missouri, early American settlers sometimes referred to it as the Illinois Road. It is also known as the Royal Road of the King's Domain in St.Charles County, Missouri. 'King's Highway or Kingshighway continues as street names in present-day St.Charles, St.Louis, Perryville, Cape Girardeau, Sikeston and New Madrid. 
When it was designated in 1926, US 61 replaced most of Route 9, which had been established in 1922 between Arkansas and Iowa. The only part that did not become part of US 61 was north of Wayland, where US 61 turned east on Route 4, and Route 9 became Route 4B (now Route 81) to the state line. Since then, US 61 has been moved to a shorter route between Jackson and Festus, replacing much of Route 25; the old alignment is now Route 72 and US 67.
Starting in the early 1980s, US 61 between Davenport and Dubuque was rebuilt as a four-lane highway. The first link, a 19-mile (31 km) stretch between Davenport and De Witt, was finished in 1982; a bypass around De Witt, which overlapped US 30, was in use starting in November 1975. Subsequent links were completed to Maquoketa (in 1996) and finally to Dubuque in 1999. When the final link was completed, Dubuque finally had a direct four-lane connection to Interstate 80.
In 1983, two multi-lane one-way routes were designated through Davenport starting at the northern city limits. Southbound traffic used the newly constructed Welcome Way until it merges with Harrison Street just north of 35th Street; northbound traffic use Brady Street (which had been a two-way, four-lane street). Other two-way stretches of the highway through Davenport have four (or more) lanes. In 2010, in large part due to a railroad bridge with a low clearance in downtown Davenport, US 61 through Davenport was moved to Interstates 80 and 280, with signing taking place in the fall of 2011; the highway through Davenport was redesignated as "US 61 Business."
A 7.5-mile (12.1 km) bypass around Muscatine was opened in 1984, but other upgrades on the stretch south of Davenport would not happen for another decade. The changes came as follows:
Prior to the construction of the Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge, US 61 passed through a short distance through Jo Daviess County, Illinois between Dubuque and Wisconsin concurrent with US 151. Now both highways cross the Mississippi on the Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge, which directly connects Wisconsin and Iowa, with neither US 61 nor US 151 passing through Illinois.
US 61 follows the west bank of the Mississippi River from the Wisconsin border through St. Paul. North from the city of Wyoming, Old US 61 continues as "Forest Boulevard" in Chisago County, and then as "County 61" through Pine and Carlton counties before ending at MN 210. The original US 61 had continued east along MN 210 to Carlton and north on present-day MN 45 to Scanlon before turning northeast on what is now "County 61 / Old US 61" through Esko.
I-35 has replaced the original US 61 descending Thompson Hill into West Duluth, from which most of the city of Duluth can be seen entering town, including the Aerial Lift Bridge and the waterfront. The original US 61 in the city of Duluth had previously followed Cody Street, Grand Avenue, Superior Street, Second Street, Third Street, and London Road.
The original US 61 between Duluth and Canada was designated as MN 61 in 1991. MN 61, part of the Lake Superior Circle Tour route, follows the North Shore of Lake Superior, where it becomes Ontario Highway 61 upon entering Canada. Highway 61 continues to the city of Thunder Bay, where it ends at an intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway.
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There is ongoing construction to upgrade US 61 (where it overlaps U.S. 40) to a controlled-access freeway. The current freeway ends at Route K just west of Weldon Spring, Missouri and the construction will upgrade US 61 to a freeway to Interstate 70 at Wentzville. When construction is finished, this freeway also will be signed as I-64. It is unclear whether the entire length will ever be upgraded to freeway status. As of 2006, the route is expected only to be a freeway as bypasses around towns.
Route map: Google
|Browse numbered routes|
|← AR 60||AR||US 62 →|
|← I-59||MS||MS 63 →|
|← SR 60||TN||SR 61 →|
|← US 60||MO||US 62 →|
|← Iowa 60||IA||Iowa 62 →|
|← WIS 60||WI||US 61 →|
|← MN 60||MN||MN 61 →|