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CapitolHill

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Many people don't give much thought to highways. And why should they? You just drive on them, get to where you're going, and that's that. While that's certainly true, I nevertheless enjoy thinking about where I could end up if I were to stay on a particular highway - all the way to its end.

For example: in my hometown, US 40 is routed on Colfax Avenue. It's interesting for me to think that, if I got on Colfax, headed east, and continued following the signs for US 40... I'd end up in Atlantic City NJ! Most people around here probably think of Colfax as nothing more than a local arterial, or perhaps one of our historic main streets. It's enriching for me to think of it as a small segment of what was once (and still nearly is) a coast-to-coast highway. It makes me feel a kind of kinship with places like Salina KS, Zanesville OH, Wheeling WV, Uniontown PA, Baltimore MD - and all the other cities, towns, people, and landscapes that really don't have much in common - except that they happen to lie along a chain of roads that were at some point officially linked together... and those segments eventually came to be known collectively as "U.S. Highway 40".

I also like to think about how people used to get where they were going - before we had double-barrelled freeways, and bypasses that whisk us around city centers. Back to Colfax Avenue, as an example: there was a time, before I-80 existed, that someone driving from Denver to San Francisco would've likely used US 40. (Today the designation ends near Park City UT, but US 40 used to continue through to Salt Lake City, Reno, Sacramento, and ended in Frisco.) The trip probably would've taken three times as long - but a watchful driver would've absorbed a good sense of the landscape and local culture as they made their journey. Much better, at least, than what one would see today along I-80: fast food franchises, national hotel chains, and outlet malls.

Today, in many cases, these old highways are still there, but their US number has been shifted over to a newer freeway. With a lot of research and a little intuition, you can figure out which roads would've been driven by a traveler during, say, the 1930's and 1940's.

(Click here for a few more thoughts on the concept of interstate highways.)

I've tried to answer the question with examples, but it's difficult to put my finger on exactly what's so interesting about US highways. So, if it still seems trivial to you, well... maybe it is - and I can't really explain it any better than that.

Anyway, I appreciate when state departments of transportation recognize the role their highways play in our national network, and make a little extra effort to put up a sign at the end of a highway's designation. I've traveled a lot of US highways, and many of their endpoints are not marked: for example, the east end of US 34 in Chicago, and the south end of US 285 in Sanderson TX. The links below show some photos of a few US highway termini:


The east end of US route 6...


The east end of US route 10...


Both ends of US route 18...


Both ends of US route 24...


The west end of US route 34...


The south end of US route 93...


Both ends of US route 138...


The north end of US route 189...


The south end of US route 195...


The north end of US route 285...


The north end of US route 385...


Last updated 9 October 1999: Added link to US 195 page; minor changes to text.


14 September 1999: Link to US 18 page now has photos of the west end (along with the east).


13 August 1999: added link to US 189 page.


21 June 1999: added link to US 10 page; rewrote intro paragraphs, adding link to High Plains page.


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