At long last, I present the latest in my series of transit map-styled designs. This time, we have the U.S. Highway system (that’s U.S. Routes, not to be confused with the newer Interstate Highway system – which as most of you well know, I have already mapped).
I have to say that without a doubt, this is the most complex network that I have yet attempted. Not only are there far more numbered routes than in the Interstate system, but there are also historical extensions and branches of many routes to consider. In some cases, numbers that were used once were reused in different parts of the country (see U.S. 48, which has been used for three completely separate roads!). I have attempted to show these historical roads as thinner route lines “behind” the main network, including the most famous U.S. highway of all – Route 66, which gets special treatment, being solid black in colour.
Like the Interstate system, the U.S. Routes (mainly) conform to a numbered grid system. Evenly numbered highways run from west to east, with low numbers in the north (U.S. 2 is the lowest) rising to the highest numbers in the south (U.S. 98 in Florida). Numbers ending in a “0” are considered “major” routes and are given their own unique colour on the map. Odd-numbered highways run from north to south, with low numbers to the east (U.S. 1) rising to high numbers in the west (U.S. 101 along the Pacific Coast). Numbers ending in “1” are the “major” routes.
Interestingly, this numbering system is the mirror of the Interstate system, which numbers from I-90 in the north to I-4 in the south, and I-95 in the east to I-5 in the west. This was done intentionally to prevent the occurrence of like-numbered U.S. highways and Interstates in the same areas. It’s also why there is no I-50 or I-60, as they would cross much the same terrain as U.S. 50 and U.S. 60.
However, being an older road system, cobbled together in the mid-1920s from a scraggly collection of road trails, the U.S. highway system sticks to its grid far more loosely, with many routes starting or ending well out of their ordained position. This map has taken me well over a year to complete (between other projects) and I restarted my work on three separate occasions, each time almost convinced that this map was impossible. This last time, I started at the most complex intersection of roads on the map – Memphis, Tennessee – and solved it first. Once that resolved itself, clues were revealed as to how to approach the rest of the map and things got a lot easier. So much so, that in the end, I was even able to add some of the longer “child” three-digit routes, some of which are actually longer than their so-called “parent” route. U.S. 191 runs from Canada to Mexico, while U.S. 91 has been cut back down over the decades to a very short stretch between Idaho Falls, ID and Brigham City, UT.
Huge thanks should be given here to the ridiculously comprehensive website, usends.com, which helped me sort out the tangled web these roads make, especially with historical routes.
As always, comments and suggestions are most welcome! Head on over to Flickr, where you can view a 4000px wide version of the map.