Numbered highways in the United States

Highways in the United States are split into at least four different types of systems, Interstate Highways, U.S. Highways, state highways, and county highways. Highways are generally organized by a route number or letter. These designations are generally displayed along the route by means of a highway shield. Each system has its own unique shield design that will allow quick identification to which system the route belongs. Below is a list of the different highway shields used throughout the United States.

Interstate Highways

Interstate Highway shields
Interstate 90 route marker
Standard Interstate
Interstate 476 route marker
Standard Interstate, wide
Interstate 80 (Iowa) route marker
California- and Iowa-style Interstate
Business Loop 19 route marker
Business Loop
Business Spur 44 route marker
Business Spur

The Interstate Highway System is a federally funded and administered (but state-maintained) system of freeways that forms the transportation backbone of the U.S., with millions of Americans relying on it for commutes and freight transport daily. Interstate highways are all constructed to precise standards, designed to maximize high-speed travel safety and efficiency. Interstate Highways also contain auxiliary routes, which are normally assigned a three-digit route number. All Interstate Highways are part of the National Highway System, a network of highways deemed essential to the defense, economy, and mobility of the country.

U.S. Highways

U.S. Highway shields
U.S. Highway 20 route marker
Standard U.S. Highway
U.S. Highway 460 route marker
Standard U.S. Highway, wide
U.S. Highway 6 route marker
California-style U.S. Highway
U.S. Highway 61 historic route marker
1961-era U.S. Highway
U.S. Highway 27 historic route marker
1948-era U.S. Highway
U.S. Highway 66 historic route marker
1926-era U.S. Highway

The U.S. Highway System (officially "United States Numbered Highways") is an older system consisting mostly of surface-level trunk roads, coordinated by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and maintained by state and local governments. U.S. highways have been relegated to regional and intrastate traffic, as they have been largely supplanted by the Interstate system for long-distance travel except in areas (especially in the west) where the Interstate system is absent or underdeveloped. This has led to the decommissioning and truncation of U.S. Highways that were formerly vital long-haul routes, such as U.S. Route 21 and U.S. Route 66.

State highways

Main article: State highway

Each state also has a state highway system. State highways are of varying standards and quality. Some state highways become so heavily traveled they are built to Interstate Highway standards. Others are so lightly traveled that they are roads of low quality.

Many state highway markers are designed to suggest the geographic shape of the state or some other state symbol such as its flag. Most of the others are generically rectangular or some other neutral shape. The default design for state highway markers is the circular highway shield, which is how state highways are designated on most maps. Several states still use the circular shield for road signage on their state highways.[1]

Territorial highways

Territorial highway shields
American Samoa route marker
American Samoa
District of Columbia route marker
Guam route marker
Northern Mariana Islands route marker
Northern Marianas
Puerto Rico route marker
Puerto Rico Primary
U.S. Virgin Islands route marker
Virgin Islands

There are also numbered highways in Washington, D.C. and several U.S. territories. Likewise, they may also vary in standards and quality.

Secondary highways

Secondary state highway shields
Arizona loop route marker
Arizona Loop
Missouri secondary route marker
Missouri Supp.
Montana secondary route marker
Montana Sec.
Nebraska connecting link route marker
Neb. Link
Nebraska recreation route marker
Neb. Rec. Road
Nebraska spur route marker
Neb. Spur
Pennsylvania quadrant route marker
Penn. Quadrant Route
Tennessee secondary route marker
Tenn. Sec.
Texas beltway route marker
Texas Beltway
Texas farm to market road route marker
Texas FM Road
Texas loop route marker
Texas Loop
Texas NASA road marker
Texas NASA Road
Texas park road marker
Texas Park Road
Texas ranch to market road route marker
Texas RM Road
Texas recreational road marker
Texas Rec. Road
Texas spur route marker
Texas Spur
Vermont town route marker
Vermont Town Highway
Virginia secondary route marker
Virginia Sec.

Some states may include a secondary highway system to supplement the main one, usually for a specific purpose. For example, Texas established a system of farm-to-market roads to specifically improve access to rural areas. Nebraska has Connecting Link, Spur, and Recreation Highways to provide access to small towns and state parks. And the Missouri supplemental route system was designed to provide access to most farm houses, schools, churches, cemeteries and stores within the state.

County highways

Main article: County highway
County highway shields
Baldwin County Road 64 route marker
Standard County
St. Louis County Road 7 route marker
Square variant
Clark County (NV) Route 215 route marker
Clark County, Nev., variant
West Virginia County Road 9/1 route marker
West Virginia variant
Wisconsin County Truck Highway Z route marker
Wisc. variant
Scioto County Road 28 route marker
Scioto County, Ohio, variant

The final administrative level in some states is the county highway. As the name suggests, this type of road is maintained by a county. In Louisiana, "parish roads" exist in place of county highways, as counties in that state are called parishes. County roads vary widely from well-traveled multilane highways to dirt roads into remote parts of the county.

Other systems

Other systems
Forest Highway route marker
Forest Highway
Indian route marker
Indian Route
Bicycle route marker
Bicycle Route
Charlotte (North Carolina) route marker
Charlotte, NC, City Route
Inner Loop (Rochester) route marker
Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

Other highway systems include:


In 1918, Wisconsin became the first state to number its highways in the field.[2] In 1926 the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) established and numbered interstate routes (United States Numbered Highways), selecting the best roads in each state that could be connected to provide a rational network of federal highways.[3]

See also


  1. Federal Highway Administration (2009). "Section 2D.11 Design of Route Signs". Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (2009 2nd revised ed.). Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration. Guidance: State Route signs...should be rectangular and should be approximately the same size as the U.S. Route sign....The shape of the white area should be circular in the absence of any determination to the contrary by the individual State concerned.
  2. "The Yellowstone Trail". South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Archived from the original on June 8, 2005. Retrieved June 8, 2007.
  3. Weingroff, Richard F. (November 18, 2015). "From Names to Numbers: The Origins of the U.S. Numbered Highway System". Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved November 18, 2015.
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