US Highways and Routes

Remember that highways came before the interstate system. They were the original fast-moving routes. This network of routes were gradually improved from time of Westward Expansion and then “modernized” and systematized starting in the mid-1920s. Thirty years later, it was replaced by the interstate system under the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. Route 66 is perhaps the most famous east-west highway in history.

U.S. highways also are designated by number. Odd-numbered roads run north-south while even ones run east-west. Their number grows from south to north and from west to east just like interstates. Highways are distinguished by white panel signs with the letters “U.S.” superimposed (placed over) the road number. This is how you know you are on a state road versus another type. They are often less well maintained, in part because each state must maintain the section of highway within its borders, and they often have other financial priorities. You may find sections of highway bumpy and rough, and often highways are in need of repair at all times of the year. 

Highways often extend from cities and into towns and smaller communities across the country. This is the economic lifeline for these municipalities, whose small businesses rely on traffic from tourists and international visitors eager to explore life in small-town America. Many of these towns are in decline as people continue to seek greater opportunity in major cities, and so tourism or seasonal travel helps to sustain them economically.

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