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What Is The Longest Road in the United States?
Welcome, once again, to the popular feature which allows the Rambler to make up a question he already knows the answer to, pretend he had to do a lot of eye-straining research, and submit a voucher for “travel expenses.” Well, he’s done it again, and we’re not falling for it. But here’s his answer anyway.
The longest road in the United States was once the second longest: U.S. 20 from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon.
When the State and Federal highway officials on the Joint Board on Interstate Highways conceived the U.S. numbered highway system in 1925, they decided that numbers ending in zero would be assigned to the transcontinental or major east-west routes, with the lowest number in the north (U.S. 2 was assigned to the northernmost route to avoid using U.S. 0). The transcontinental or major east-west routes were:
U.S. 2: Houlton, Maine, to Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
U.S. 10: Detroit, Michigan, to Seattle, Washington.
U.S. 20: Boston, Massachusetts, to Astoria, Oregon.
U.S. 30: Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Salt Lake City, Utah.
U.S. 40: Wilmington, Delaware, to San Francisco, California.
U.S. 50: Annapolis, Maryland, to Wadsworth, Nevada.
U.S. 60: Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California.
U.S. 70: Morehead City, North Carolina, to Holbrook, Arizona.
U.S. 80: Savannah, Georgia, to Laredo, Texas.
U.S. 90: Jacksonville, Florida, to Van Horn, Texas.
The description of U.S. 20 in the Joint Board’s report of October 30, 1925, read (all spellings as in the original):
The Secretary of Agriculture forwarded the Joint Board’s report to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) for adoption. This transmittal reflected the fact that the States owned the roads. AASHO asked the States for their concurrence in the Joint Board’s proposed plan and numbering.
A Numbering Switch
On December 30, 1925, Roy A. Klein, Secretary of the Oregon Highway Commission, wrote to William C. Markham, AASHO’s Executive Secretary. Klein explained that the northwestern States supported the plan but had a number of concerns, including the routing of U.S. 20 and U.S. 30. On this matter, he said:
The Highway Commission of Oregon approves the numbering of the routes in Oregon with the exception of route #20. This route as at present shown on the map makes a long detour to the north through Yellowstone Park, thence south to Pocatello, Idaho and continues on to the Coast via the Columbia River Gateway.
Many sections of this road are unimproved and the route is open only a few months in the year during the summer season on account of snow on the high altitude. Further, there is a $7.50 toll charge on entering the Park for all traffic. Because of this fact, Oregon recommends that Pocatello be made the western terminus of route #20, which is approved by Wyoming and Idaho.
The Highway Commission of Oregon favors the extension of route #30 through to the Pacific Coast via Ontario and the Columbia River, which would be effective west of Granger and extending through Kemmerer, Wyoming, Montpelier, Idaho, Pocatello, Boise, Ontario, Oregon, Pendleton, Astoria.
A conference was held at Detroit on this proposition at which were present James, Hewes, Purcell, Bureau of Public Roads; Peter and Blood, Utah; Sevison, Wyoming; Gregory, Idaho; Duby and Klein, Oregon.
The Lincoln Highway Association Objects
The routing of U.S. 30 was of interest to the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA), backers of the era’s most famous transcontinental route (New York City to San Francisco) and one of the first proposed, dating to September 1912. E. W. James, Chief of the Division of Design in the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) and Secretary of the Joint Board, had approached the LHA to secure support for the plan to replace the country‘s many named highways.
As James, who had conceived the numbering plan, recalled in a letter dated February 21, 1967:
Having assisted the Lincoln Highway Association in the First World War, I next went to Detroit to their headquarters and laid my scheme before them, very frankly telling them that it would mean the end of the Lincoln Highway Association, the Dixie, and all others.
They understood it all; said they were for a big plan for roads across the U.S.; would be with my scheme if I would give the Lincoln Highway recognition so far as possible in the No. 30. I agreed to do all I could to put it across, and so had their support toward washing out all the named routes.
United States Highway No. 20.
Total Mileage, 2,542
Massachusetts Beginning at Boston via Worcester, Springfield, Lenox to the Massachusetts-New York State line west of Pittsfield.
New York Beginning at the Massachusetts-New York State line west of Pittsfield via Schodock Center, Rensselaer, Albany, Cherry Valley, Richfield Springs, Bridgewater, Cazenovia, LaFayette, Auburn, Geneva, Canandaigua, Avon, Geneseo, Warsaw, East Aurora, Athol Springs, Fredonia, Westfield to the New York-Pennsylvania State line west of Westfield.
Pennsylvania Beginning at the New York-Pennsylvania State line east of Northeast via Erie, West Springfield to the Pennsylvania-Ohio State line east of Conneaut.
Ohio Beginning at the Pennsylvania-Ohio State line east of Conneaut via Ashtabula, Geneva, Painesville, Cleveland, Elyria, Oberlin, Norwalk, Bellevue, Fremont, Woodville, Perrysburg Maumee, Charaghar, Oak Shade, Fayette, Alvordton, to the Ohio-Indiana State line west of Columbia.
Indiana Beginning at the Ohio-Indiana State line west of Columbia via Angola, LaGrange, Elkhart, South Bend, Michigan City, Gary to the Indiana-Illinois State line at Hammond.
Illinois Beginning at the Indiana-Illinois State line at Hammond via Chicago, Elgin, Marengo, Rockford, Freeport, Galena to the Illinois-Iowa State line at East Dubuque.
Iowa Beginning on the Illinois-Iowa State line at Dubuque via Manchester, Independence, Waterloo, Iowa Falls, Fort Dodge, Rockwell City, Early, Connectionville to the Nebraska State line at Sioux City.
Nebraska Beginning at the Iowa-Nebraska State line at South Sioux City via Laurel, Orchard, O’Neill, Ainsworth, Valentine, Rushville, Chadron to the Nebraska-Wyoming State line west of Harrison.
Wyoming Beginning at the Nebraska-Wyoming State line west of Harrison via Van Tassell, Lusk, Orin Junction, Douglas, Casper, Shoshoni, Worland, Greybull, Cody to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
To The Northwest
By the late 1930’s, Idaho and Oregon were thinking about an extension of U.S. 20 via newly improved roads. When AASHO’s Executive Committee considered State routing proposals on June 21, 1937, it considered and deferred Oregon’s request. The minutes of the meeting explained:
The continuation of a route from the Yellowstone Park to the Pacific Coast, suggested to be as follows:
“Beginning at the west end of the Yellowstone National Park; thence over U.S. 191 and U.S. 91 at Blackfoot; thence over Idaho State Route 27 to Arco; State Route 22 to Mt. Home; then coincident with U.S. 30 to Boise; thence State Route 24 to the Oregon State line.”
“In Oregon it is proposed that the route shall coincide with U.S. 28 twelve miles to Vale; then over State Route 54 to Albany, via Juntura, Burns and Bend.”
The Longest Road
U.S. 20 was now the second longest road in the country, behind U.S. 6. As the “6” designation suggests, U.S. 6 was not conceived as a transcontinental or major east-west route.
The Joint Board had assigned the number to a route from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Brewster, New York. By the time AASHO’s member State highway agencies approved the numbering plan in November 1926, the route had been extended to Erie, Pennsylvania. Gradually, AASHO approved requests to extend U.S. 6 across the country. In 1937, it reached Long Beach, California, 3,652 miles from Provincetown. At this length, U.S. 6 was the longest road in the country. (For more information on the evolution of U.S.
That status lasted until June 18, 1963, when AASHO approved California’s request to change the terminus to Bishop. This change shortened U.S. 6 to 3,227 miles as measured at the time. (According to the most recent U.S. numbered highway log, published in 1989 by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the route is 3,249 miles long).
The western extension of U.S. 20 to Newport, Oregon, created an anomaly in the U.S. highway numbering plan.
The Joint Board’s 1925 version of U.S. 20 and U.S. 30 was consistent with the idea that the zero-numbers assigned to transcontinental and major east-west routes would increase from north (U.S. 2) to south (U.S. 90). The numbers on the West Coast were 10, 20, 40, and 60 in north-to-south order.
When U.S. 20 was stopped at Yellowstone National Park and U.S. 30 extended to Astoria, Oregon, the numbering remained consistent with the plan (10, 30, 40, 50, and 80). Where U.S. 20 and U.S. 30 were parallel, “20” remained north of “30.”
However, when AASHO approved extension of U.S. 20 to Newport, its placement violated the south-to-north pattern of zero-numbered routes because “20” ended up below “30.” AASHO had little choice but to accept the anomaly because switching the western ends of U.S. Routes 20 and 30 for the sake of consistency was impractical.
From a motorist’s standpoint, such anomalies make little difference. Most motorists are not aware of the numbering plan conceived in 1925; they follow road signs and maps, so anomalies are not a source of confusion.
The 10 Longest Highways in the USA
Truck drivers are no strangers to long hauls on the road. After a career full of spending days on end traversing the country and working long, irregular hours, there is very little about the American highway infrastructure that a trucker doesn’t know.
But with that said, do you happen to know the ten longest highways in the USA off of the top of your head? Check out this list, and test your knowledge of the American roads!
US Route 20—the longest highway in the land. Route 20 covers 3,237 miles and stretches from Boston to Newport, Oregon.
Number two on this list also starts in Massachusetts. Beginning from Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod, US Route 6 ventures 3,207 miles to Bishop, California.
The longest road in the interstate system, I-90 runs from Boston (surprise, surprise) to Seattle, Washington, spanning 3,101.77 miles.
Covering 3,073 miles, US Route 30 starts in Atlantic City and ends in Astoria, Oregon.
The last member of the “3,000+” club, US Route 50 stretches 3,011 miles, connecting West Sacramento, California and Ocean City, Maryland.
The second-longest highway within the interstate system, I-80 is 2,899 miles long. It starts in Teaneck, New Jersey and ends in San Francisco.
Route 60 covers 2,670 miles of land as it bridges Quartzsite, Arizona and Virginia Beach.
Running from Rouses Point, New York, to Everett, Washington, route 2 is the eight longest highway in the United States—it spans 2,580 miles.
The third longest interstate highway travels 2,555 miles between Barstow, California and Wilmington, North Carolina.
The tenth longest highway in America is Route 12, starting in Detroit and ending in Aberdeen, Washington, covering 2,483 miles.