From humble beginnings to great lengths
US 83 was among the inaugural routes of 1926. But at the time, and for the next couple years, it was a very short route -- only about 170 miles long -- running between the capital cities of the two Dakotas:
However, by the early 1930s the US 83 designation had been extended not only north to the Canada border, but all the way down to the Mexico border too. This increased US 83's distance to nearly 1900 miles, and made it one of the longest north-south US routes. Additionally, as a result of US 83's new role as a trunk route, three newer US routes were numbered as branches of US 83. Two of these soon became quite lengthy themselves, and they still exist (US 183 and US 283). Just as these highways intertwine with each other, their history is also interrelated. This article examines the evolution of US 83, as well as the x83 routes that are part of its "family".
Note that this post does not elaborate on the specific endpoints of each route, because that information has already been covered elsewhere: photos, maps, and more history can be viewed at the following links:
US 83, 183, and 283 were somewhat unusual in the sense that they were each commissioned before they were entirely constructed and/or improved to the standards considered necessary for a US route. This was done with an understanding that future highway development would eventually result in roads that were continuous between their endpoints. But there were timeframes during which these routes existed in separate, disconnected segments. In 1929 no portion of US 83 existed in Nebraska, yet AASHO allowed Kansas to begin signposting its portion of US 83. (Reportedly this was only under the condition that improvements to the road's surface would be made. But it is unclear exactly what the term "improvements" entailed, or whether there was a specific timeframe: even by 1932, the Kansas official state highway map was still indicating that only a very small percentage of US 83 was hard-surfaced in the state. The majority was gravel, and some segments were still just dirt.)
At this point it should be noted that the original routing for US 83 was significantly different from today's route through portions of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Modern US 83 heads west from Vivian SD and then south from Murdo. But originally US 83 went east from Vivian, and then south from Presho, roughly following the path of what is now US 183 through Nebraska. But this 1931 atlas showed no part of US 83 in Nebraska -- in other words there was a lengthy gap between Presho and the Kansas state line. At the time, this gap could be traversed by using SD state highway 53 and NE state highways 10 and 22. Most of that route was shown as "all-weather", but apparently something was lacking that temporarily prevented it from being signposted as US 83. Nevertheless, some interesting things were developing in the region around the KS-NE border:
As that map illustrates: that same year US 183 was also extended to the same town, where the two routes shared a common terminus and were reunited with their "parent" route (US 83). But the arrangement was different than today: instead of diverging south of Throckmorton, both 183 and 283 were twinned down to Albany. South of there US 183 traffic was directed along the corridor currently occupied by US 283 (Baird, Coleman, Brady). US 283 on the other hand followed today's TX 6 to Cisco, then today's US 183 through Rising Star, Brownwood, and Brady. From there the two routes were twinned again, through Mason to Junction.
An additional change took place in 1941: the US 283 designation was extended up to its current terminus in Lexington NE. And speaking of Nebraska: remarkably, this 1949 map shows that a connection between North Platte and Valentine had still not been established:
When US 183 and 283 were removed from the town of Junction, they lost their sole remaining physical junction with US 83 (although they still connect to each other, as they are overlapped between Vernon and Throckmorton). Ever since that change was implemented in 1952, the corridors for each of these routes have remained essentially the same (except for minor intra-city routings).
The only remaining change involved US 383. Because the Nebraska segment of that route was entirely overlapped with US 183, NDoR had it truncated to the Kansas state line in 1964. Then in 1979 AASHTO approved KDoT's request to decommission the remainder of US 383. But its memory is preserved in the number of its replacement designation, K-383.
I find it interesting and remarkable that what started out as a single short route of 170 miles quickly grew to a 1900-mile-long border-to-border route, and also spawned two branch routes that added another 2000 miles to the family.