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Interstate highways twice as safe as other highways

February 12, 2010

In early January a "Did You Know" article explained the interstate highway numbering system. That article generated more interest than normal, so here is more information about our interstate highway system.

The roots of the system are militaristic. It was President Eisenhower who envisioned the new highway system. As President during the Cold War of the '50s, he saw the system as essential to the nation's defense, needed for fast deployment of troops, and a possible escape route for Americans fleeing from the fallout of a nuclear attack.

The building of the system began in 1956 in Missouri on what is now I-70. The original system was 42,795 miles, but subsequent additions have brought the total miles to over 46,000 miles, and the total cost now exceeds $130 billion. There are 62 highways crisscrossing the nation in a grid, 27 of them running east/west with even numbers, and 35 routes running north/south, with odd numbers. This does not include the belts and spurs that run in and around our major urban areas.

In spite of high speeds, the interstate system is the safest of our highway system. Nearly two people die for every 100 million miles traveled on other highways, compared to less than one person for every 100 million miles traveled on the interstates. Everything on the Interstate System is intended to protect your life. Guide rails on hazardous stretches, berms or concrete dividers in the median, landscaping that screens oncoming lights, breakaway signs and lampposts all save lives.

The genius in the system is its uniformity. There are always at least two travel lanes in each direction, and each lane is 12 feet wide. On the far left side, the shoulder is four feet wide, and to the far right, drivers have a 10-foot wide breakdown lane.

In rural areas, the highway is designed for safe travel at 70 mph. In the city, curves are engineered to handle traffic moving at 50 mph. Even the uniformity of signage is designed to reduce drivers from becoming confused.

Here is some trivia about the Interstate Highway System:

-Longest route: I-90 at 3,021 miles (Seattle, Wash. to Boston, Mass.)

-Shortest route: I-73 at 12.27 miles (Emery to Greensboro, N.C.

Most costly route: I-95 at $8.0 billion (Miami, Fla. to Houlton, Maine)

-Interstate route traversing the most states: I-95 (16 states- FL, GA, SC, NC, VA, DC, MD, DE, PA,NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, ME)

tate with the most interstate routes: New York (29 routes - 1,675 miles)

-State with the most interstate mileage: Texas (17 routes - 3,233 miles)

-East/West Transcontinental routes: I-10 (Los Angeles, Calif. to Jacksonville, Fla. - 2,460miles), I-80 (San Francisco, Calif. to Teaneck, N.J. - 2,900 miles), and I-90 (Seattle, Wash. to Boston, Mass. - 3,021 miles)

For more articles, go to the Traffic Safety Board at



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