John's O&M Lesson 6: Road Numbering Systems

Now that John has knowledge about the nearby small towns and cities, let's take a moment to learn more about the roads that connect these towns and cities and what the road numbers mean.

United States Numbered Highway System

Note: This lesson can be simplified or expanded depending on your student's level. The most basic lesson may include numbering systems with even and odd numbers and the different road sizes of local roads he/she might be familiar with. In John's case, he is familiar with the highway numbers that intersect Pittsboro or are nearby, along with Interstate 40 and Interstate 95. His initial numbering lesson will be narrowed to these local roads. The more advanced student may learn about the four types of highways, spurs, and loops and applying the numbering system to highways around the U.S.

Highways in the United States are split into four main systems: Interstate Highways, U.S. Highways, state highways and county highways. Highways are organized by numbers and each highway system has a designated visual symbol that signifies which system the highway belongs to.

Interstate Highways

Interstate highways are a nationwide network of roads are designed for long-distance travel and are freight routes. The highway numbering system is basically a grid pattern. 

Generally, most north-to-south highways are odd numbered with the lowest numbers along the east coast and the highest numbers along the west coast. Major north-to-south highways ends in "1" or "5", such as Interstate 95 which is the major interstate that runs from Maine to Florida.

Most east-to-west highways are even numbered with the lowest numbers in northern part of the US and the highest numbers in the southern part. Major east-west roads end in "0". Example: Interstate 40 is a major interstate that runs east-to-west, starting on the east coast in North Carolina and ending in California. 

These highways have two-digit numbers with auxillary spurs and loops that have three digital numbers. An example is 540, which is a loop off of Interstate 40, which goes around Raleigh. 

Advanced: A "spur" is an interstate route which a has three digital with an odd first digit. A spur is an offshoot or a short route branches off from the interstate. A "loop" has an even first digit and either passes through a city or bypasses a city then reconnects to the interstate.

Interstates are federally funded but are state-maintained. 

Interstate signs are in the shape of a shield with a red bar on the top with the word "INTERSTATE" and a dark blue bottom with white numbers. Loops and spur signs are in the shape of a shield with a solid green background with "BUSINESS LOOP" or "BUSINESS SPUR" at the top and the number at the bottom.

Road Numbers Activity

Pittsboro and Nearby Cities map This map displays the towns, cities, and roads from Pittsboro to these towns and cities. This map focuses on towns and cities near Pittsboro, which is in the middle area of the state.

  • Name three major North Carolina cities and their spatial relationship to Pittsboro. What road(s) would you travel to get from Pittsboro to each of these cities?
  • Name three smaller cities/towns and their spatial relationship to Pittsboro. What road(s) would you travel to get from Pittsboro to each of these cities/towns?
  • Find an interstate that goes between two cities. 
  • What does the road number 87 tell you? Find 87 on the map, name two cities on this road.
  • What does the road number 64 tell you?
  • What does 440 tell you? Where is 540 in relationship to 440?

NC Carolina Highways map This more complex map displays the major cities in NC and the major roads between the cities (mostly intersections with more details for cities closer to Pittsboro). Note: This map does not include every highway in North Carolina. This map is more complex and can be modified for young users, if needed. Remember, you can make a custom map of your state or use this NC map. If you make a map of another state, please share it with us! This map focuses more on the communities closer to Pittsboro, John's home town.

  • Interstate 40
    • What does the number tell you?
    • Interstate 40 begins in Wilmington on the east coast. Can you follow it to the Tennessee/North Carolina border? What cities does Interstate 40 go by?
    • Name the interstates that cross Interstate 40. 
    • Where is Interstate 40 from Pittsboro?
    • Which city that Interstate 40 goes past is closest to Pittsboro?
  • Interstate 95
    • What does the number tell you?
    • Where does Interstate 95 enter and leave North Carolina?
    • Name the cities that Interstate 95 goes through?
    • Where is Interstate 95 from Pittsboro?
  • Loops
    • What cities have interstate loops?
    • What loop goes around Raleigh? 
    • What Loop goes around Greensboro?
    • What Loop goes around Charlotte?

Want to learn more about the roads near you? Research a highway!