State Route 539
A map of western Whatcom County with SR 539 is highlighted in red.
|Auxiliary route of I-5|
|Defined by RCW|
|Maintained by WSDOT|
|Length||15.18 mi (24.43 km)|
|South end||I-5 in Bellingham|
|SR 546 near Lynden|
|North end||Hwy 13 at Canada–United States border near Lynden|
State Route 539 (SR 539, named the Guide Meridian) is a north–south state highway in the U.S. state of Washington. The highway travels through northwestern Whatcom County and connects Interstate 5 (I-5) in Bellingham with Lynden and the Canadian border near Langley, British Columbia. Its name, the Guide Meridian, is derived from the Guide meridian that it follows while traveling due north–south.
SR 539 begins as a continuation of Meridian Street north of downtown Bellingham at an interchange with I-5 near the Bellis Fair Mall. The highway travels along the east side of the mall and through a retail and commercial district, passing near the Whatcom Community College campus and the Cordata business park. After leaving Bellingham city limits near the residential areas of the Cordata neighborhood, SR 539 becomes the Guide Meridian Road, so named because it follows the "guide meridian" plotted 12 miles (19 km) east of the Willamette Meridian.
The four-lane highway continues north through the rural Laurel area and passes the campus of Meridian High School. After crossing Fourmile Creek and passing through a roundabout with Ten Mile Road, SR 539 gains a grass median with a cable barrier as it heads north towards Lynden. In the southern outskirts of the city, the highway reaches a roundabout with SR 544, which travels northeast to the towns of Everson and Nooksack. SR 539 continues north and crosses over Wiser Lake on a causeway and the Nooksack River on a pair of steel truss bridges before reaching Lynden.
The Guide Meridian travels through the western outskirts of Lynden and passes through an industrial area and near the Northwest Washington Fair and Events Center. The highway leaves Lynden and narrows to two lanes before reaching an intersection with SR 546. After traversing another stretch of farmland, SR 539 reaches the Lynden–Aldergrove Border Crossing on the Canadian border, where it terminates. The highway widens to accommodate two separate lanes for trucks and NEXUS pass-holders and is split into two roads with a duty-free store in the middle. The border crossing is open from 8 a.m. to midnight and is the fourth-busiest border crossing in the state, with 509,467 vehicles entering the United States in 2017. Beyond the border, the road becomes British Columbia Highway 13, which continues north to Aldergrove and an interchange with the Trans-Canada Highway east of Langley.
The entire route of SR 539 from Bellingham to the Canadian border is perfectly straight and runs due north–south. It serves as an alternate route between Bellingham and British Columbia, bypassing the Blaine border crossings. The entire highway is listed as part of the National Highway System, a national network of roads identified as important to the national economy, defense, and mobility, and is designated as a Highway of Statewide Significance by the state legislature. SR 539 is maintained by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which conducts an annual survey on state highways to measure traffic volume in terms of annual average daily traffic. Average traffic volumes on the highway in 2016 ranged from a minimum of 1,400 vehicles at the Canadian border to a maximum of 37,000 vehicles near Bellis Fair Mall. The Guide Meridian corridor is also served by several Whatcom Transportation Authority bus routes connecting Bellingham to Lynden, Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas.
The Guide Meridian was preceded by a plank road that was built by the county government in stages between 1884 and 1885 and fully graded in 1890. The 24-foot-wide (7.3 m) plank road ran to the west of the current Guide Meridian from Laurel to the Nooksack River to avoid Wiser Lake. By November 1891, it stretched 12 miles (19 km) and cost $72,000 to construct. It was destroyed several times by forest fires, including a major fire in 1897 that required using 80,000 board feet of lumber to replace the burned sections.
The Guide Meridian was later reconstructed as a gravel road from Bellingham to the Canadian border in the early 1910s. The section of the Guide Meridian within Bellingham city limits, named Meridian Street, was paved by the city government in 1914. The following year, the Whatcom County government began $68,800 in work on the road, including a new bridge over the Nooksack River near Lynden and 5 miles (8.0 km) of pavement between Bellingham and Laurel. The paved Guide Meridian was opened on September 14, 1915, ahead of the Northwest Washington Fair, and the new Nooksack River bridge was completed the following month. The Nooksack river bridge from 1915 was moved to Mosquito Lake Road during the 1950s replacement of a wider bridge which is the current northbound bridge.  The new bridge measured 383 feet 3 inches (116.81 m) in length, the longest of any steel bridge in the Pacific Northwest at the time.
The remainder of the unpaved road was maintained by a local citizen named John C. Anderson, who received praise from local newspapers for the quality of the road. The planked approaches to the Nooksack River bridge were deemed too narrow for automobile traffic and widened by 8 feet (2.4 m) in 1919. Further paving projects on sections of the Guide Meridian were contracted by the county government between 1920 and 1932, completing a paved highway from Bellingham to the Canadian border. The British Columbia government announced plans in 1931 to link the improved Guide Meridian to the Fraser Highway via a new paved highway.
U.S. Route 99 Alternate
The Guide Meridian was added to the state highway system in 1937 as Secondary State Highway 1B (SSH 1B), connecting the Canadian border with Primary State Highway 1 (PSH 1), also signed as U.S. Route 99 (US 99) in Bellingham. Several bills in the 1930s proposed elevating the Guide Meridian to a primary state highway, but the proposal was not considered by the state legislature. In 1952, the American Association of State Highway Officials approved the creation of US 99 Alternate, which would run concurrent to SSH 1B from Bellingham to the Canadian border. The designation came shortly before the completion of the Aldergrove highway (signed as British Columbia Highway 13).
After the completion of the Bellingham Freeway (part of I-5) in December 1960, SSH 1B was truncated to a new interchange at the north end of Meridian Street. During the 1964 state highway renumbering, SSH 1B was replaced by US 99 Alternate and PSH 1 was provisionally renumbered to US 99 before being replaced outright by I-5. US 99 and its alternate routes were decommissioned in 1969, leaving SR 539 to replace SSH 1B when the new state highway system was codified by the state legislature in 1970.
Guide Meridian Road was transformed from a two-lane highway to a four-lane highway in the late 2000s. The project was completed in two phases. The first phase, carried out by IMCO General Construction of Bellingham, was from Horton Road to Ten Mile Road. Along with the wider roadway the project installed new signals at Smith, Axton and Laurel Road intersections. It also replaced both the Four Mile Creek and Ten Mile Creek Bridges with wider, safer bridges. Construction of this segment was started in June 2007 and completed in Fall 2008, at a total cost of $39.9 million, funded by the Washington State DOT.
The second phase created a four-lane highway from Ten Mile Road to Badger Road; this phase was carried out by Max J. Kuney Construction of Spokane. It also built four new roundabouts at Ten Mile Road, Pole Road, Wiser Lake Road, and River Road to further help improve safety. Bridges were widened or replaced at Wiser Lake, Fishtrap Creek, Floodway and Nooksack River. In Summer 2007 the crews moved utilities from the roadway. In Fall 2007 the DOT finished buying property, and construction began in Spring 2008. The project was completed in July 2010.
The entire highway is in Whatcom County.
|Bellingham||0.00||0.00||I-5 – Seattle, Vancouver BC||Interchange|
|||7.51||12.09||SR 544 east (East Pole Road) – Everson, Nooksack||Roundabout|
|||12.54||20.18||SR 546 east (Badger Road) – Sumas|
|Canada–United States border||15.18||24.43||Hwy 13 continues north towards Aldergrove|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi|