Skip to Content

Roads Everywhere

The United States is an automobile culture. Roads of all types cover the nation, along with the gasoline stations, automobile dealers, repair shops and other businesses that directly and indirectly support the automobile. In cities, suburbs, and rural areas, most retail businesses and restaurants depend on the automobile to bring their customers to them.

The federal government, the individual states, and the counties, towns and villages within the states all maintain their own systems of roads, using a rough system of cooperation that works for the most part. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is an agency under the U.S. Department of Transportation that coordinates state and local design and operation of road networks. A system of “Federal Highways” or “US Routes” exists, often encompassing smaller roads in a nationwide numbered system. State and local governments maintain these roads with some federal assistance. Odd-numbered routes run north and south, while even-numbered routes run east to west. Lower numbered routes start in the east and north, hence, US Route 1 runs from Maine down to Florida, and US Route 101 is on the Pacific Coast. Many of these routes run between towns and cities, occasionally running through and becoming major streets in many communities, large and small.

The United States has also an extensive system of Interstate Highways, typically limited access, requiring entrance and exit ramps and having generally at least two traffic lanes in either direction. As with the smaller US Routes, odd-numbered interstates run north and south, while even-numbered interstates run east to west. The order of the numbers, however, is intentionally opposite to the US Route system to avoid confusion. As an example, Interstate 95 runs from Maine down to Florida on the east coast, while Interstate 5 covers the west coast of the country. Interstate 90 covers the northern tier of the country, Interstate 10 the southern. Interstates often bypass the centers of cities, or are connected to city centers by systems of spur roads.

States and counties within the states have their own systems of numbered, lettered, or named roads. The signs indicating the roads are different in color and shape from the federal signage, and vary by region.

In the western United States, particularly in California, people call a limited access road a freeway rather than a highway. In some areas, particularly in the east, parkways, so called because they include grassy dividers, allow access only to automobiles rather than trucks and other commercial vehicles.

The most famous US Route in American history and culture is undoubtedly Route 66, which stretched to the southwest from Chicago to Los Angeles during much of the 20th century. Route 66 no longer exists, at least not officially. Efficient interstate highways replaced the road. Across the western United States, however, remnants of the road continue to carry unofficial Route 66 signage and attract nostalgia tourists.

Next Section:The Driver’s License

Transportation: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.