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End of US highway 81

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Photo credits: Robert Brooks; Brent Ivy; Jeff Morrison; Steven Nelson; Alex Nitzman; Ed Wilson; me

Approx. time period North terminus South terminus
1926-1960s Pembina, ND (old) Laredo, TX
1960s-1993 Pembina, ND (new) Laredo, TX
1993-present Pembina, ND (new) Fort Worth, TX

US 81 was an original 1926 route, connecting the international ports of entry at Pembina ND and Laredo TX (you can view photos from the historic Pembina crossing on this page, and the old endpoint in Laredo can be seen on this page).

It wasn't until 1993 that the south end of US 81 was truncated to its current terminus in Fort Worth. I went to school in Waco from 1986-1990, and US 81 was clearly marked all through town at the time. A few people have written to let me know about US 81 signs that were still posted in central and south Texas long after the route had been truncated. Here's one:

Brooks, Sep. 2004

Robert says this was a brand-new sign at the time, and that all the signs for this exit on southbound I-35 consistently showed the US shield at the time (however, northbound signs use the Texas highway marker, which is the correct designation for this road). I think what happens sometimes is that the organization replacing signs (whether that's a DoT or a contractor) will first do an existing-sign inventory, and then just replace them verbatim - without giving any thought to whether or not the old signs were correct. At any rate, I'm told all mistake US 81 signage in Texas had been fixed by 2006.

Today US 81 exists only north of its junction with I-35W (exit 60, in north Fort Worth). Below is a shot of the signage at the south beginning from northbound I-35W/northbound US 287...

Ivy/Nitzman, Sep. 2009

...and here's a photo from southbound I-35W:

Nelson, May 2006

If you take that exit, the first northbound US 81 marker looks like this:

Ivy/Nitzman, Sep. 2009

Heading the opposite direction, the last southbound marker is posted after the onramp from FM 156:

me, Mar. 2012

There is no further mention of US 81, nor any indication that it ends about a mile ahead, but the photo below shows where the designation ends as it merges with southbound I-35W:

me, Mar. 2012

Incidentally, the US 287 designation does not end here, but rather continues ahead with I-35W for a few miles before exiting again.

Despite some info to the contrary you may have seen on the web, apparently the north end of US 81 has always extended to the Canada line, and still does to this day. The photo below is looking west on ND hwy. 5 at I-29's interchange 203, near Joliette:


Northbound US 81 comes towards the camera, but instead of ending at this interchange, it is co-signed north with I-29 to the border at Pembina. The photo below shows what that port of entry looks like:

Nelson, Apr. 2005

Heading the opposite direction, as soon as one crosses the border...

Morrison, May 2007

...they're on the north beginning of US 81 (as well as I-29). Just ahead, the first southbound US 81 marker looks like this:

Morrison, May 2007