SPELLING IT OUT: The story behind Missouri's lettered highway system

3 weeks 6 days 16 hours ago Sunday, November 10 2019 Nov 10, 2019 Sunday, November 10, 2019 4:50:00 PM CST November 10, 2019 in News
By: Spencer Humphrey, KOMU 8 Reporter
loading

COLUMBIA – Navigating Missouri’s lettered supplemental route system can sometimes feel like trying to navigate a jumbled mess.

Instead of saying 'Route OO' and 'Route AA,' Sabrina Hays of Queen Beez Cleaning Service said her GPS had other ideas.

“My GPS actually said, 'ahh and ooh,' the other day,” Hays said. Cleaning houses all over mid-Missouri, Hays travels her fair share of lettered routes. 

“Sometimes it is very hard to navigate,” Hays said.

There’s a reason why it is so hard for Hays and countless other Missourians to find their way around. 

Every county has its own set of lettered highways maintained by MoDOT. For example, Route WW in Boone County is a totally separate road from Route WW in Linn County. The two never connect, never touch, never interact. The only thing they have in common is their name.

This is the same for countless other letter combinations seen throughout the state. 

The lettered system dates back nearly 100 years.  

“1922 is when they laid out the state system,” former MoDOT contractor Joe Sonderman said. “We did have lettered routes.”

From his basement in Hazelwood, Sonderman acts as MoDOT’s de-facto historian of sorts. Since leaving MoDOT, Sonderman has started a popular Facebook page called ‘Missouri’s Historic Highways.’ He said the lettered routes started to gain more traction in the mid-twentieth century.  

“Between 1952 and 1962, there was a 10-year period where we adopted all of these rural roads,” Sonderman said. 

He said the state set a goal making sure every citizen had a paved road within two miles of their home, to support the state’s rural population. To accomplish that, the state purchased unpaved roads previously maintained by counties and cities. 

Because of that, Missouri now has the seventh-largest highway system in the country, which carries some unique traits. 

“They will not keep the same letter if they cross an interstate or a state highway,” Sonderman said. He said this was done to reduce confusion among drivers.

He said other states have similar supplemental route systems. He said the Farm-to-Market highway system in Texas came to fruition for the same reasons. 

But if you think you’ve noticed a pattern among the lettered routes, think again. 

“With the letters, there’s no rhyme or reason,” Hays said. 

There are a few exceptions.

“We will never see G, I, L or Q because they look like numbers on a highway sign,” Sonderman said. “You shouldn’t see an X, although there is one, I think it’s in Macon County." 

Only one other state, Wisconsin, uses letters to mark its state highways.

“Still, it is confusing as to why the letters are used,” Hays said.  

Sonderman said, for the question at hand, there is no firm explanation for why the state chose to use letters, and they don’t appear to be going away any time soon.

More News

Grid
List
JEFFERSON CITY - Singing pine trees and dancing blue penguins are now lighting up the night throughout Binder Park in... More >>
1 hour ago Sunday, December 08 2019 Dec 8, 2019 Sunday, December 08, 2019 8:00:00 AM CST December 08, 2019 in News
FULTON - The 71st annual Christmas parade took over the streets of Fulton on Saturday afternoon. This year's theme... More >>
17 hours ago Saturday, December 07 2019 Dec 7, 2019 Saturday, December 07, 2019 3:40:00 PM CST December 07, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Road signs honoring five Boone County veterans killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan were revealed Saturday. ... More >>
17 hours ago Saturday, December 07 2019 Dec 7, 2019 Saturday, December 07, 2019 3:36:00 PM CST December 07, 2019 in News
CAMDEN COUNTY — One person was transported to the hospital Friday night after being ejected from their vehicle. The... More >>
18 hours ago Saturday, December 07 2019 Dec 7, 2019 Saturday, December 07, 2019 3:17:00 PM CST December 07, 2019 in News
TIPTON — A shooting suspect is in the hospital after authorities shot him five times, according to a news release... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, December 07 2019 Dec 7, 2019 Saturday, December 07, 2019 8:50:00 AM CST December 07, 2019 in News
FULTON - Police are investigating after shots were fired at a Break Time in Fulton Friday night. According to... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, December 07 2019 Dec 7, 2019 Saturday, December 07, 2019 1:25:00 AM CST December 07, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - MU spokesman Christian Basi, confirmed the man who died after being hit by a car on College Ave... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 9:34:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - The Central Missouri Humane Society is waiving adoption fees this weekend, just in time for the holiday season.... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 6:36:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
MISSOURI - Missouri’s minimum wage rate is set to go up again soon. The state minimum wage will increase... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 5:21:41 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
JEFFERSON CITY - Governor Mike Parson and First Lady Teresa Parson are inviting families to join them at the Governor's... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 3:50:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
BOONEVILLE - The Cooper County Sheriff's Office is asking travelers to find an alternate route on Highway 41 going to... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 3:02:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - Former Columbia police chief Ken Burton has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after originally being charged with driving... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 2:45:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
HALLSVILLE - Kari Hallowell, the mother of 17-year-old Hayden Holt, who died in an overnight car crash after being chased... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 2:04:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP)- Two U.S. officials have identified the shooter at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola as a second... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 1:53:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA - This weekend, 47 high school basketball teams from five states will go head-to-head in the 2019 Norm Stewart... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 1:24:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in News
COLUMBIA- Former MU Quarterback Drew Lock is set to make his second start with the Denver Broncos this Sunday versus... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 12:28:00 PM CST December 06, 2019 in Sports
BOONE COUNTY- A 52-year-old male suffered two gunshot wounds Thursday night after getting into a fight with two people at... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 10:53:00 AM CST December 06, 2019 in News
RICH HILL- Relatives of a missing Missouri mother say they are growing increasingly concerned after deputies found the woman's phone,... More >>
1 day ago Friday, December 06 2019 Dec 6, 2019 Friday, December 06, 2019 10:22:00 AM CST December 06, 2019 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 43°
10am 45°
11am 46°
12pm 48°
1pm 51°