Navigating the I-94 Emergency Route

A portion of the map of I-94 Emergency Route between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, Michigan.
E-Route Map Preview

The I-94 Emergency Route in Michigan, also known as Emergency Interstate 94, is a series of public highways that parallel I-94 across most of southern Michigan.  It is sometimes necessary to use this second route due to accidents, planned lane closures, or other traffic jams.  Without the secondary highway, the alternatives would involve driving on gravel roads or going far off course to get to a different freeway.  On the other hand, with a parallel highway available, getting around problems on the road should be easy.

In theory, this is a great system of redundancy for transportation.  But in practice, nobody actually knows where the Emergency Route is located!  That’s because the route was never published on any road map.  Ask any road warrior of southwest Michigan about the Emergency Route, and they will probably tell you about the times when they had to get off the Interstate and try to find their way through scenery of unfamiliar farms and small towns.  That’s what it feels like during the day, with plenty of gas in the tank.  Attempt this at night, and it becomes too intimidating for most drivers.

A favorite story of my own is about the night I was driving west from Ann Arbor in moderate Art Fair traffic.  There was a major accident near Exit 139 and I encountered a total closure of the westbound side of the Interstate at that point.  I knew all I had to do was turn south and then find my way back to the Interstate farther west where it was still open.  I might have been the only person around who knew how to do this, though.  Nobody was smart enough to follow me on my detour, and when I rejoined the westbound lanes, I was the only driver on that side for miles.  Even the truckers were turning around and heading back east.

To make commuting easier, I created my own map of I-94 to keep in the car with me.  I’m going to share it now for personal use by fellow drivers.

View My Map, Emergency Interstate 94, Using Google Maps

Get the PDF Map – It prints slightly better than Google.

There is a bit more you will need to know before you can make good use of this map.  The Emergency Route is marked by about 200 sign posts starting in New Buffalo and ending in Chelsea, Michigan.  It is adequate to know that these signs are arranged in a pattern that makes them highly confusing.  Each sign says “emergency”, followed by “east” or “west”, the Interstate 94 shield, and then an arrow pointing either up, left, or right.  These signs are often combined with multiple highway numbers, business routes, truck routes, and other information.  I don’t actually know what every one of them means, but I can tell you where to look for them.

At most (but not all) of the I-94 off-ramps, there is one sign pointing in the direction that corresponds to the turn you need to make at the end of the ramp in order to get to the Emergency Route.  That turn usually puts you on to a short feeder road that connects to the Emergency Route, where there are usually (but not always) two signs saying which way to turn to go east or west.  Now, this is where it gets weird.  If you were to drive backwards a bit on the Emergency Route, it is very likely that you would find a sign for the same east or west route that points not in the direction you are now headed, but back the way you just came.  Likewise, as you progress along the Emergency Route in your desired direction, the next sign you are likely to find is not going to point you helpfully along the highway, but back toward the Interstate at the next on-ramp.  At most of the feeder roads, you can find two or three signs that point north, and just as many that point south for the same purpose.  And they all look exactly the same.  This is one of the reasons why I need to rely on a map when I drive the route.  If I become disoriented with the roads, I can’t rely on the signs to tell me which way to go.

There is one other vital piece of knowledge about the Emergency Route.  Most of the roads that make up the route are not State roads.  The State only maintains the signs.  In one resulting situation, I got an unpleasant surprise when I exited the Interstate during a construction lane closure, only to find that part of the Emergency Route had been closed for construction, and the detour went on a nearly impassable and unmarked dirt road.  Not only does this type of detour not appear in the State traffic information, the State was totally unaware they had closed part of I-94 without an obvious way around it.  Such incoordination among agencies is something to watch out for when relying on the MiDrive website for information.

By now, I hope you are thinking there should be more to it than this.  And there is, because today’s road warrior has to have GPS to play with.  Google Maps, which I linked above, is inadequate to the task because the mobile versions have none of the custom mapping features.  And it’s no fun trying to read a paper printout while navigating with a perfectly good computer.  So, here is one more cool idea:  Get the free My Maps Editor application for iPad or iPhone, or hopefully an equivalent program for your GPS platform.  My Maps Editor has a prominent “Maps” button at the top.  At the end of the Maps screen,  there is an option called “Add Online/KML map.”  After selecting that option, just type in this URL: and then press the “Done” and “Close” buttons to return to the map.  Alternatively, by simply following my link now, you can avoid some typing.

If you’re not too attached to the Google Maps visual format, there is another great application called Galileo Offline Maps that will also recognize the previous KML link, and does not require any network connection when on the road.

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