Traffic Q&A: Why are there so many types of roads?

Weather & Traffic Q&As

AUSTIN (KXAN) – South Lamar Boulevard, Congress Avenue and Sixth Street — all these different labels for what is essentially the same thing. Knowing what type of road you’re driving on can help you find where you are, what you’re looking for and where you’re going.

There’s a rough set of rules that are used to name roads. Let’s dig into them.

First, it doesn’t matter if you’re on Sixth Street or Interstate 35, you’re on a road. A road is any path that connects two points. It’s the most general term. Speaking of Sixth Street, a street is a public road that has buildings on both sides and it usually runs perpendicular to an avenue.

Avenues, like Congress Avenue, are found in cities. Like streets, they have buildings on both sides, but they can also have trees. Don’t get those confused with a boulevard. Think South Lamar Boulevard as an example. Boulevards are wider than avenues and can have trees on both sides. They also frequently have medians dividing them.

Drives, like East Riverside Drive, usually follow the landscape around them, such as rivers or hills. While a lane, think Stassney or Slaughter, is a narrow road. If a lane has more than one lane, it will frequently have arrows telling people where to go.

Many of these roads connect to frontage roads. These run alongside the biggest roads around, like a highway. Highways are multilane roads that connect cities. A good example is U.S. Highway 290, which Austinites take on their way to Houston.

Don’t get that confused with SH 290 out near Ozona, which is a state highway. Both types of highway are maintained by the state government. U.S. highways are named as such because their numbering was decided by a board of representatives from several states.

Finally, that leaves us with the granddaddy of them all: the interstate. These are part of a network of federally maintained roads. You may think they need to actually pass through multiple states to qualify as an interstate, but that’s not true. I-4 in Florida and I-45 in Texas are just two of the 17 interstates that only run through one state.

In case you’re wondering, driveways used to be another type of road, a way, that branched off of a drive. While parkways are a type of road that is surrounded by trees, which is why you park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.

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