Michigan's 'M' state highways could be considered as iconic to the state as Mackinac Island. But what happens when one highway gets to be too popular?

 

That's the case with M-22. The route from Manistee to Traverse City around the Leelenau Peninsula is so loved among tourists, the state has spent thousands of dollars replacing M-22 shields. So what's a state to do? One thing they're trying is to drop the 'M.'

Soon M-DOT will begin installing M-less shields that just say '22.' According to the Traverse City Record-Eagle,

Michigan Department of Transportation officials have begun hanging signs that read simply "22" in locations where vandals have repeatedly stolen the iconic M-22 road signs from alongside the beloved roadway where it snakes along Lake Michigan’s shoreline through Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau counties. The simpler signs are an attempt to curb a growing number of thieves who abscond with the traffic markers.

The M-less shields will make 22 resemble a North Carolina highway sign. NC uses diamonds like Michigan (the other only state that does). However North Carolina's diamonds are more rounded at the corners rather than 90 degree angles found on Michigan signs.

Here's a look at an NC highway shield - in fact, a roadway that would be equal to M-22's popularity. NC-12 is routed along the state's Outer Banks and shows up as stickers on car bumpers the same way M-22 does in Michigan.

Google Maps Street View

Other Roadway Sign Thefts - US 666 and Milepost 420

This isn't the first time roadways have needed to change to combat sign theft. Famously in the Western US, US 666 was changed to US 491. According to Wikipedia,

Although sign theft has always been a problem along this highway, thefts reached epidemic proportions when the pending number change was announced. Within days of the announcement, virtually every US 666 sign had been stolen

Colorado has changed Milepost 420 along Interstate 70 to Milepost 419.99 after too many thefts of the marijuana-themed number.

The History and Majesty of M-22

Just what makes M-22 such a coveted roadway? The roadway has bonafide deep Michigan routes. It's been around ever since Michigan has numbered highways. M-22 got its name July 1 of 1919 and hasn't changed much of the last 97 years. Only in the last 15 or 20 has tourism really skyrocketed. The roadway hugs Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is the main drag through the Leelenau wine region and in 2015 was named tops in the nation in a USA Today readers' poll of fall drives.

Other M-less Highways?

There once was an M-less M-63 shield sign posted north of St. Joseph. But that was likely more of a goof than an intentional M-omission.

Eric Meier Collection

Bonus Video - People from Illinois Explain the Michigan Accent