So you're a lifelong resident of Michigan, you've driven the freeways of this state criss-crossed from one peninsula to the other. But do you get hung up on exactly why there are similarly numbered interstates in very close areas?

The Grand Rapids area features both Interstate 96 and Interstate 196. Is there an easy way to tell the two of them apart and why are they numbered so closely? The question came up recently on Reddit.

Been living here for my whole life & driving for half of it. I still get them confused, and my dad gets confused when I tell him someone that happened on 96 but it was actually 196

Please, for the love of everything that is good in this world, explain it like I'm 5, the difference.

There are two ways to approach the question. First is where the highways travel. I-96 is a cross-state expressway from Muskegon to Detroit while I-196 begins in Grand Rapids and hugs the lakeshore from Holland to Benton Harbor.

READ MORE: Lake Michigan's 'Curvy Highway' May Be the Great Lakes Region Greatest Road Mystery

I-96 runs north and west of I-196. I-196 serves downtown Grand Rapids, I-96 avoids it.

So why are the numbered so similarly? That has to do with the interstate highway numbering scheme. One and two digit interstates are considered primary interstates (I-69, I-75, I-94 and I-96 in Michigan) while three digital interstate are child/auxilliary/spur/loop routes.

So Interstate 196 is a 'child' route while Interstate 96 would be the parent. It's exactly the same as I-194 that serves downtown Battle Creek splitting off from I-94.

What may be confusing is that unlike most 'child' interstates, I-196 is a very long route travelling more than 80 miles while some spur interstate may be just a few miles.

Adding to the confusion, as pointed out by reddit user HalfaYooper provides a good explanation - it's the 1 vs the I:

People confuse themselves with I-96 and 196 because they use different ways of saying it. Its either 96 and 196 or I-96 and I-196 (I for Interstate).

So when someone says 196 its easily confused for I-96 (or vise versa) thinking the 1 and the I are interchangeable and they are not.

Could the numbers ever change? It's unlikely but not impossible. With I-196's southern end at I-94 now connected to a complete US 31 freeway between Benton Harbor and South Bend and work done in Indiana towards making US 31 a full freeway between South Bend and Indianapolis, it would not be out of the question to someday in the future see I-196 renamed as Interstate 67 (which fits the national numbering scheme between I-65 and I-69) so a single numbered I-67 would travel between Grand Rapids and Indy.

Not likely, but not impossible.

For now, you'll need to somehow remember that I-96 and I-196 are different highways with different destinations.

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