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Author Topic: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System  (Read 944 times)

fredmcain

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The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« on: September 06, 2019, 11:46:53 AM »

Group,

I was wondering if we could hear some thoughts as to what you think the future of the old U.S. Numbered Highway System might be.
Probably this has been discussed before but I’m not sure how  recently.  Do you think there are any more recent developments?
Will the U.S. Highway System finally die out altogether as more and more new Interstates come online?

A few years ago, a guy by the name of George from Arkansas and I wrote to ALL the state DOTs and asked them about their support for the U.S. System.  We asked them if they would consider an expansion of the System and even offered suggestions for possible candidates.  My feeling was that most of the DOTs have largely lost interest in the older "U.S." Routes.  Although they have been making no real concerted effort to do away with the System, at the same time they have no plans to expand or improve upon it.  I guess you’d say they are mostly completely indifferent.

Are there any thoughts on this?
Best Regards,
Fred M. Cain
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2019, 12:03:39 PM »

I think that during the early Interstate era there was an assumption that US Routes would be rendered obsolete.  Time really has proven that not to be the case, especially in rural corridors throughout the entire country.  While there has been some routes rendered obsolete or relegated to “local road” status there are way too many examples of useful highways that merit the system existing.  The Mountain West corridor in particular comes to mind as having very robust assortment of US Routes that will never merit Freeway upgrades.  If anything the proliferation of the Interstate has waned as well given the real world issues making Freeway upgrades can have.  Even freeways being built today generally have just a good of chance to be designated a State Route or US Route realignment over an Interstate designation.

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2019, 12:27:53 PM »

One thing that is certain, the era of the “Grand American Highway” is over and so is the general public’s interest in infrastructure.  Traveling in 1919 across the country would have required using primitive roads that had way more in common with wagon routes than a modern highway.  By 1969 the expansions of freeways and the Interstate system built upon the ease of access created by the US Routes.  Culturally we are too used to being able to get somewhere easily to really be concerned about how we get there.  As much as I care about having an epic road experience in between destinations most people just want to get where they are going as fast as possible. 

That said the utility of the US Route System in my view was brought into question really only one time and that was during the 1964 California State Highway renumbering.  California cut out or truncated any US Route which didn’t have a multi-state connection out of the road network. Given the geography of the State didn’t lend itself well to long multiplexes it kind of made sense to drop routes that had to duplicate onto an Interstate to reach a state line.  That said the effect of the California Highway renumbering didn’t cascade to the surrounding states which legitimized the US Route System in the west and Mountain West remaining. 

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2019, 01:36:12 PM »

...most of the DOTs have largely lost interest in the older "U.S." Routes.  Although they have been making no real concerted effort to do away with the System, at the same time they have no plans to expand or improve upon it.  I guess you’d say they are ... indifferent.
I think "indifference" is exactly the correct term, and that applies to AASHTO as well as most individual state DOTs.  But I prefer those agencies to be indifferent to the US route system, rather than antagonistic, which was a more apt term from the 1960s through the early '90s.  1993 was a turning point: that was when Texas finished decommissioning their US routes that paralleled interstates.  Since then, there has been a pronounced lack of either expansion or contraction in the US route system (see the charts and info on this page).  That's been the case for over 25 years now, so I interpret that to mean we're in a period of equilibrium, in which most of the US routes that remain still serve a valid purpose, and neither AASHTO nor the state DOTs have any interest in changing them.
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Rothman

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2019, 01:39:08 PM »

I think the status quo will continue:  No real changes with maybe a rare addition across the decades.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2019, 01:48:42 PM »

...the effect of the California Highway renumbering didn’t cascade to the surrounding states which legitimized the US Route System in the west and Mountain West remaining.
I would say that CalTrans' actions had a profound effect on neighboring states.  To quote myself from this page:
Quote
Starting in the mid-1960s, California deleted or severely truncated almost every US route in their state, for the reasons listed above (most of these were either intra-state routes, or else they paralleled new Interstates).  Because of its geographic location (with no other states to its west or south), California had more freedom to delete these designations than an interior state would have.  But suddenly California was devoid of several long, coast-to-coast, or border-to-border US routes, including 40, 60, 66, 70, 80, 91, and 99.  And this had a ripple effect, opening the door for neighboring states to do the same: for example, Arizona soon deleted or truncated its portions of US 60, 66, 70, and 80.  Route 66 was redundant with various Interstates all the way to its eastern terminus in Chicago, and by 1985 the entire US 66 designation had been decommissioned.
And I would add to that: US 91 in Nevada and Utah, and US 99 in Oregon and Washington.
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Beltway

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2019, 02:20:43 PM »

I think that during the early Interstate era there was an assumption that US Routes would be rendered obsolete.  Time really has proven that not to be the case, especially in rural corridors throughout the entire country.  While there has been some routes rendered obsolete or relegated to “local road” status there are way too many examples of useful highways that merit the system existing. 

True in the eastern part of the country as well.  Just in the middle-Atlantic area, there are multi-state arterial highways such as US-29 (NC/VA), US-301 (VA/MD/DE), US-460 (VA/WV/KY), US-13 (VA/MD/DE) and others that benefit from keeping the US highway designation.

Others while bypassed directly by Interstate highways still have multi-state use and border crossings such as US-1 (NC/VA and VA/DC/MD), US-17 (NC/VA), US-11 (TN/VA/WV/MD/PA), US-60 (VA/WV) and others that benefit from keeping the US highway designation.

Others while entirely in one state still have been in use for 80+ years and people are too used to them to want to change them, such as US-360 and US-211.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2019, 02:21:29 PM »

I think the status quo will continue:  No real changes with maybe a rare addition across the decades.

This is probably right. While we might lose US highways here and there when new Interstates are expanded, there will always be US routes that are important enough to remain in the system but will never make sense as Interstates, like US-283.
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fredmcain

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2019, 02:47:31 PM »

I think these are all good thoughts so far.  Based upon what I’m reading here, the U.S. Numbered Highway system contracted after some of the Interstates first opened but now it has stabilized somewhat.  Is that a good assessment?

Here is an idea I have that might or might not someday come to pass.  During the course of the last ten to twenty years or so, there has been on again, off again, on again and off again talk about allowing the states to impose tolls on Interstate Highways.  I have no crystal ball so I am not making any predictions here as to whether or not that might happen.

BUT ! ! !  If it ever DOES happen, that could be a possible game changer that might have far reaching implications for some of the older U.S. Highways.  Old U.S. Highways that simply parallel Interstates (such as U.S. 11 and others) could suddenly become more important again because they would offer themselves as a FREE albeit slower alternative to tolled interstate travel.

We could take this speculation one step further and imagine that a few U.S. Routes that have been decommissioned (such as the northeastern end of U.S. 54) might get reinstated again.  Some of the older U.S. Routes in Texas that run parallel to interstates might even be given a second look.  Although this is highly speculative.   Probably they might just use a state highway number.

In any event, the older and historic U.S. Numbered  Highway System is still with us.  Based on some of the comments received so far, it’s bound to still be with us in the future as well.  And as a fan of the System, I take that as good news.

Regards,
Fred M. Cain
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GaryV

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2019, 03:35:26 PM »

Michigan (with the support of OH and IN) decommissioned some of their US routes that were replaced by Interstates - 25, 27, 16, 112 (by replacing it with decommissioned US-12).  But it kept others as US routes (23, 31, 131), even though they were upgraded to freeways - although you could argue that they did that because there otherwise would be orphaned stubs where the freeway ends.

And there's some (2, 41, 45) that don't warrant freeway status, and would have to be renumbered as state routes if the US system ceased to exist.
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Max Rockatansky

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2019, 12:34:45 AM »

...the effect of the California Highway renumbering didn’t cascade to the surrounding states which legitimized the US Route System in the west and Mountain West remaining.
I would say that CalTrans' actions had a profound effect on neighboring states.  To quote myself from this page:
Quote
Starting in the mid-1960s, California deleted or severely truncated almost every US route in their state, for the reasons listed above (most of these were either intra-state routes, or else they paralleled new Interstates).  Because of its geographic location (with no other states to its west or south), California had more freedom to delete these designations than an interior state would have.  But suddenly California was devoid of several long, coast-to-coast, or border-to-border US routes, including 40, 60, 66, 70, 80, 91, and 99.  And this had a ripple effect, opening the door for neighboring states to do the same: for example, Arizona soon deleted or truncated its portions of US 60, 66, 70, and 80.  Route 66 was redundant with various Interstates all the way to its eastern terminus in Chicago, and by 1985 the entire US 66 designation had been decommissioned.
And I would add to that: US 91 in Nevada and Utah, and US 99 in Oregon and Washington.

Some of those US Routes in California were probably doomed no matter what.  US 66 was certainly doomed given how it essentially was completely on future Interstate corridors.  My take on the US Routes in California or were affected by the 1964 renumbering is as follows:

US 40 - Really west of Salt Lake City there was no practical way to make US 40 viable with I-80 essentially consuming it's entire corridor.
US 50 - Pushing US 50 to San Francisco was questionable at best.  The natural terminus point was pretty much always Sacramento.
US 60 - Had CA 62 been constructed by the time US 60 was truncated out of California there might have been a viable realignment available.  My personal opinion is that US 60 ought to make a return to California via CA 62 and CA 60, it certainly is a viable alternate to I-10...especially when Tex Wash had all those problems near Desert Center a couple years back.
US 70 - US 70 had a huge multiplex just to get to California at all.  Globe ended up being a appropriate endpoint.
US 80 - I'm surprised that US 80 survived in Arizona as long as it did.  Really US 80 should have been swapped with US 180 and ended in El Paso.  West of El Paso the truncation made sense.
US 91 - Really I find it surprising US 91 survives at all considering how much the corridor has been truncated.  US 91 south to the Salt Lake City might be viable but not much further. 
US 99 -  US 99 should have been realigned on the more steam lined path CA 99 took north of Sacramento as an intrastate corridor.  OR 99/99W/99E could have been consolidated into US X99 something.
US 299 -  Personally US 299 in my opinion was close enough to 300 miles and connected to US 101/US 395 on both ends to state an intrastate US Route.
US 399 - US 399 had a ton of utility when it was competing against US 99 on the Old Ridge Route and Ridge Route Alternate.  Once US 99 was modernized to a full expressway US 399 lost almost all it's utility and deserved to be slashed.
US 466 - Personally I think this corridor west of Barstow to Paso Robles was/is incredibly important and should have been kept as a singular route.  CA 58/CA 46 still essentially function as a single corridor.  A US Route would still be useful even if it was less than 300 miles intrastate.

sparker

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2019, 10:20:19 PM »

^^^^^^^^^^
Some thoughts on this discussion:
(1)  US 70 has little use west of its merge with I-10 at Las Cruces, NM; that would be an appropriate truncation point -- particularly since NM doesn't seem to have any interest in signing the MPX with I-10.  The "independent" portion from Lordsburg to Globe could simply be MSR 70, just to maintain current navigation idiom. 
(2)  Since Wheeler Ridge to the US 50 interchange in Sacramento is 299 miles -- and the extension over present CA 99 to Red Bluff (OK, CA 36 east of there!) would have produced a route exceeding 400 miles, the Division of Highways could technically have kept US 99 intact as an intrastate.  Why they didn't do so is probably contained in some memo in Caltrans' basement archives; my guess is that they consulted with their OR and WA counterparts and mutually agreed to request deletion of US 99 so there would be little pressure to sign the requisite multiplexes with I-5 to connect the independent sections. 
(3) Once it was decided to eliminate US 66, the US 466 designation was likely doomed because of the long MPX with US 91 (and the corresponding MPX in NV and AZ with US 93).  But from personal discussions with Caltrans planners back in the '80's, it's clear that the one corridor many of them would like to elevate to Interstate status is CA 58 (to an I-40 extension, of course).  Even with the incremental improvements to that corridor over the past half-century, that wish persists -- although with today's priorities, it's certainly on the way, way-back burner!  But restoring a US route over CA 58 would likely be considered an exercise in futility; commercial traffic certainly finds its way to the route even with green spades adorning it -- it would be considered a wasted effort.

I've always wondered if the "Winnemucca to the Sea" concept had been around pre-'64, that US 299 would have multiplexed north along US 395 into OR before turning east onto what's now MSR 140 east to US 95.  And if so, it may well have been spared (hey, if 199 can exist because it crosses a state line, then a 299 doing likewise -- and providing a legitimate E-W corridor from the North Coast -- may well have been a "slam dunk" for retention as a US route). 
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mrhappy1261

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2019, 10:24:40 PM »

Take out US 50 and US 60 completely or reroute them in states where it's not going to go to my planned I-50 and I-60 path.

(If you want to see my plans, see them in Fictional Highways).
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2019, 05:18:34 PM »

I don’t think we will see any more major changes. The states that have wanted to do their damage have done it, and the ones who have made minimal changes probably won’t change their views. Other than an eventual truncation of US 61 north of I-94, I can’t really see many major changes.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2019, 08:53:07 PM »

Well, North Carolina seems keen on replacing many of the major US corridors with interstate numbers. I-42 over US 70, I-87 over US 64, I-587 over US 264, I'm certain there are long-range plans for US 74, and maybe US 17. However, public reception to this push has been either apathetic of just confusion.

The vast majority of people only see this as the "road number" being changed, and in turn causing confusion. Most people don't give a shit if the road is an "interstate" or not. Hell, most of the above mentioned highways have a 70 speed limit anyway.

When the idea for I-587 was first announce, google maps jumped the gun and signed it on GPS. Everyone was asking "why did they change the number? Its been Highway 264 for over 70 years."

In Raleigh, I-87 has recently been posted on US 64/264 freeway heading east of the city. Few people know what I'm talking about when I mention "I-87". Everyone knows that road as "64" and I don't think that is going to change any time soon.

If you can't tell, I disagree with NC's useless push to change all the roads to interstates. It doesn't change where it goes so why bother?
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2019, 10:01:23 PM »

If you can't tell, I disagree with NC's useless push to change all the roads to interstates. It doesn't change where it goes so why bother?

It causes thrills and chills for people like Sprjus4.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2019, 09:53:58 AM »

Other than an eventual truncation of US 61 north of I-94, I can’t really see many major changes.

I absolutely detest the fact that I'm probably going to see this in my lifetime.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2019, 10:29:59 AM »

It's been 30+ years since the last major changes were done in TX.  It will be interesting to see if there will be any more truncations (US 75 north of Dallas => I-45, US 59 => I-69/I-69W/I-369, US 190 (and other roads?) => I-14, US 281 => I-69C, US 77 => I-69E) in the future in TX.  Same goes for any possible "returns" (US 90 through Houston, US 67 fully through Dallas, US 77 also through Dallas (in light of the partial resignage between Carrollton and Denton)), although those may not be as likely.

Other non-Interstate-related changes to US routes in TX have really not been a factor for several decades; any recent differences have come in the form of in-town re-routings, bypasses, or widenings, for the most part.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2019, 01:14:32 PM »

If you can't tell, I disagree with NC's useless push to change all the roads to interstates. It doesn't change where it goes so why bother?

That red, white and blue shield-shaped route marker means a lot for economic development. I'm in favor of numbering any freeway as an interstate if possible. I disagree with some of the numbers, especially 73, 74, and 87 and children in North Carolina, but not with the concept.

"Hopkins County is located on the Western Kentucky and Pennyrile parkways, which are interstate-quality freeways," or "Hopkins County is located on I-69." Which sounds better if you're trying to recruit business and industry?
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #19 on: September 11, 2019, 06:32:27 PM »

The U.S. highway system has basically become the "secondary interstate" system for routes that do, indeed, cross state lines (and are therefore "interstate" by definition), but don't have the traffic volume or overall length to warrant leveling up to an Interstate designation.

From that perspective, the system likely isn't going to go anywhere, but I doubt there'll be any sort of growth or expansion in the system. Our road network infrastructure is pretty much in place for the most part. There may be some U.S. routes, especially those that are intrastate and don't cross state lines, that get converted to state route status, and there may be some that are already built as freeways that could potentially upgrade to an Interstate.

But the odds of any brand-new U.S. route designations are slim.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #20 on: September 11, 2019, 07:56:08 PM »

That red, white and blue shield-shaped route marker means a lot for economic development. I'm in favor of numbering any freeway as an interstate if possible. I disagree with some of the numbers, especially 73, 74, and 87 and children in North Carolina, but not with the concept.

"Hopkins County is located on the Western Kentucky and Pennyrile parkways, which are interstate-quality freeways," or "Hopkins County is located on I-69." Which sounds better if you're trying to recruit business and industry?

"Hopkins County features easy access to the Interstate system, connecting you and your products with the rest of the country" or some other marketing spin is still doable without actually having an Interstate. Most people don't care about which Interstate they're connecting to, just that there will be an easy way to get to the Interstate network.

I still prefer as many freeways to have Interstate shields as possible simply for consistency reasons, but the economic argument has always been pretty weak, in my opinion. It's the freeway itself that makes 90% of the impact, the shield is just the last 10%.
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #21 on: September 11, 2019, 08:03:10 PM »

If you can't tell, I disagree with NC's useless push to change all the roads to interstates. It doesn't change where it goes so why bother?

That red, white and blue shield-shaped route marker means a lot for economic development. I'm in favor of numbering any freeway as an interstate if possible. I disagree with some of the numbers, especially 73, 74, and 87 and children in North Carolina, but not with the concept.

"Hopkins County is located on the Western Kentucky and Pennyrile parkways, which are interstate-quality freeways," or "Hopkins County is located on I-69." Which sounds better if you're trying to recruit business and industry?

Hence not only the nascent Interstate corridors in NC but also in TX and other states considering them.  It's not so much attracting longstanding industries, but a nod to the present situation where much of our inventory of consumer goods comes from East Asia sources.  And the standing idiom among those in that neck of the woods in charge of locating distribution sites is either (a) proximity to an Interstate trunk highway and/or (b) access to rail service for large-scale container movement.  If the inventory is to some extent seasonal, then (a) prevails, since a few 53-foot trailers dispatched to various locations is a preferred method over reliance on the "hub and spoke" RR method, which generally requires additional transit time (albeit great for bulk cargo).  To most Asian logistic managers, Interstate access = more shipments on time.  This results in U.S. locations -- particularly those with limited resources otherwise -- to attempt to entice those managers to select their areas for deployment of warehousing.  It's a matter of increasing local employment -- and thus other local businesses dependent upon such.   And yes -- while Scott avers that it's the presence of a functioning freeway rather than the color of the shield that is essential when it comes to usage of a road network, that's not what sells overseas -- it's that red, white, and blue shield on a nearby freeway.

And the model is largely valid -- one just has to look at the "Tracy Triangle" here in CA (essentially bounded by I-5/580/205); it has become one of the premier warehousing zones in CA, employing about 25K -- and the "zone" has expanded up I-5 toward Stockton and down CA 99 toward Modesto, with housing accompanying the commercial growth.   Aiding in this are two UP lines from Bay port facilities coming in over Altamont Pass and up through Antioch, which ferry those containers not crowding I-580. 

OK, the CA example is an ideal situation near inbound port facilities (although quite secondary in volume compared with LA to the south -- and even Tacoma to the north in aggregate terms.  But with rail service available, it's no wonder that places such as San Angelo, TX -- as well as their neighbors to the northwest, Midland/Odessa, are champing at the bit to make their West Texas area a Midwestern version of the Tracy Triangle -- particularly if & when petroleum production wanes due to environmental concerns (maybe not with the current administration, but eventually likely).  Having an efficient shot east to Houston (or from there post-Panamax) for that stream of tractor-trailers is a driving force behind efforts for the P-to-P as well as I-14.  And while local sentiment may be to keep the petroleum gravy train running as long as possible, the long-range prospects call for much more diversification of regional commerce.  So as long as the mainstream consumer market demands clothing from China and electronic equipment from Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia (and China as well!), the calculus that suggests that new Interstate corridors will be required will persist.   
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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #22 on: September 11, 2019, 08:51:43 PM »

Having an efficient shot east to Houston (or from there post-Panamax) for that stream of tractor-trailers is a driving force behind efforts for the P-to-P as well as I-14.
Given I-14's sawtooth path, "efficient" is the LAST word I would use to describe it.
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Alex

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #23 on: September 11, 2019, 09:32:25 PM »

Brent (flaroads) read somewhere or heard it, that the US Highway system is in maintenance mode. No more additions or extensions. Instead the existing system will be maintained or contracted where applicable.

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Re: The Future of the U.S. Numbered Highway System
« Reply #24 on: September 12, 2019, 03:35:52 AM »

Having an efficient shot east to Houston (or from there post-Panamax) for that stream of tractor-trailers is a driving force behind efforts for the P-to-P as well as I-14.
Given I-14's sawtooth path, "efficient" is the LAST word I would use to describe it.

For some reason some posters out there seem to think that the I-14 profile strictly along US 190 in the Triangle will be the actual final alignment.   That is highly unlikely to be the case; a cutoff from Cameron to Hearne, as I've said before, is the most likely routing -- the only certainties are (a) a crossing of the Brazos River floodplain somewhere within shouting distance of the present US 79/190 crossing, since the river has been "channelized" in that area and any bridge will be thus minimized; and (b) utilizing the TX 6 freeway, particularly in the College Station area; the largest contingent of backers are former Aggies! -- and wouldn't stand for a facility that didn't serve their alma mater.  And that would necessitate extending I-14 along TX 6 well southwest of the departure point of US 190.  It'll probably trace TX 30 directly over to Huntsville (which would be the most direct access -- and better serve commercial traffic from the Houston area).   That being said, we've had this discussion before in much greater detail over in the I-14 thread in Mid-South; we should really get back to the subject of the U.S. highway system.
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