The United States is a big country with lots of long highways to drive and take in the scenic view. Americans have enjoyed this mode of travel for many decades, and car safety helped encourage the improvement of highways. There are even some famous highways. Though Route 66 is one of the most famous, it isn’t actually the longest road. That distinction belongs to U.S. 20.
The history of U.S. 20
Measuring 3,365 miles long, according to Insider, U.S. 20 is the longest road in the United States. It’s part of the U.S. Numbered Highway System, and it runs from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon. The Federal Highway Act of 1921 set aside funds for states to build and improve highways, according to the Historic US Route 20 Association.
In 1925, the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, which included state and federal highway officials, came up with the numbering convention for the U.S. highway system. The number 2 and then numbers ending with 0 would be used for major transcontinental roads. The lowest number would start with the northernmost road.
U.S. 20 was then the third-northernmost road. U.S. 2 ran from Houlton, Maine, to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. U.S. 10 stretched from Detroit, Michigan, to Seattle, Washington. U.S. 20 was proposed to run from Boston to Astoria. Once the roads were numbered, the federal secretary of agriculture sent the board’s report to the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO). That group asked the states for their approval of the plan.
U.S. 20 wasn’t always the longest road
At first, U.S. 20 wasn’t the longest road in the nation, according to “Ask the Rambler” at the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. At the end of 1925, Oregon suggested it would be better for U.S. 20 to end in Pocatello, Idaho, because of tolls and wintertime road closures. Instead, U.S. 30 would run to Oregon. Eventually, it was approved for U.S. 20 to end at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. U.S. 20 originally ran through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
Montana, Idaho, and Oregon were added to the route in 1940 after road improvements. Even with the addition, U.S. 20 was the second-longest road, after U.S. 6. That road hadn’t been part of the original plan, but with gradual extensions, by 1937, it stretched from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to Long Beach, California, across 3,652 miles.
In 1963, the end of U.S. 6 was moved to Bishop, California, which shortened the distance to 3,227 miles, as measured at the time. The change promoted U.S. 20 to the nation’s longest road, at 3,365 miles, running from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Oregon. One inconsistency that appeared after the extension of U.S. 20 was that its western extension then ran south of U.S. 30, contrary to the original plan of numbers increasing north to south. However, this doesn’t cause any problems for drivers.
What to see along U.S. 20
With such a long road, U.S. 20 gives drivers plenty of space to see the country. The road now runs from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific Ocean and spans 12 states, according to Roadtrippers. And there’s plenty to see. This includes natural scenery in Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site (Oregon), Yellowstone National Park (Montana and Wyoming), and Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (Idaho).
You can also see famous residences, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Oak Park, Illinois), Michael Jackson’s childhood house (Gary, Indiana), and Harriet Tubman’s home (Auburn, New York). And there are museums, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (Cleveland, Ohio), Jell-O Gallery Museum (Le Roy, New York), and Baseball Hall of Fame (Cooperstown, New York). Plus, there’s Americana, like Carhenge (Alliance, Nebraska), and American history, including Old North Church (Boston, Massachusetts).
Route 66 is one of the best-known stretches, but U.S. 20 is the longest road. Driving it is a fun way to see the United States.