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Madison's Beltline

Many cities refer to roads and trails that encircle their cities as "beltlines," as Madison does.

Q: How did the Beltline get its name?

A: The term “beltline” is a fairly common one, says Wisconsin Historical Society archivist Lee Grady.

Many cities, including Atlanta and Eugene, Oregon, refer to roads and trails that encircle their cities as “beltlines” or “belt lines.”

In the archives of Frank Custer, a former Capital Times reporter who kept detailed notes on the city’s history until his death in 2000, Grady found several references to what would become today’s Beltline. According to Custer’s notes, city residents were initially supportive of the idea.

A State Journal article published on Aug. 14, 1937, reports that Randall Avenue property owners petitioned the City Council for the creation of “an outer belt line” to solve “the heavy truck problem.” The property owners wanted to prevent the “headache” of “drivers (who) roar through with their exhausts open” and who “park their trucks on the avenue to sleep at night, leaving their motors puttering.”

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Later, though, strong opposition to the Beltline emerged, led by local business owners who worried that the highway would divert tourist traffic from the city.

But the state Highway Commission approved the concept of a Beltline around Madison in June 1944, and construction began in December 1948.

Since then — as any area commuter already knows — construction on the Beltline has been more or less constant. Upgrades started less than a decade after the city first broke ground on the project, when construction crews reconstructed a 2.6-mile segment of the highway west of Park Street, doubling its width from two lanes to four.

— State Journal archives

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