Talking about freeways

Highway Articles

A few days ago a friend from a long, long time ago recently reinstalled AIM and contacted me out of the blue. While we were chatting I started to mention something about a road trip I’d taken in another life. I was going to say that I had once gotten lost in Washington D.C. on my way to Philly via I-95. What I found interesting was that — after years of living in Los Angeles — I almost referred to the East coast’s massive superhighway as “the” 95. My brain caught my fingers before I’d typed it that way, but it started niggling at me. In LA we honor all of the highways with the definite article. It’s not just 405. It’s the 405. You’d never tell someone, “Take 101.” You tell someone, “Take the 101.” Nobody — afaik — on the East coast refers to “the 95”. The only highway in Florida that gets a the is The Turnpike. In LA every highway gets a the.

And how about this? In Florida if you’re telling someone how to get from Jacksonville to Tallahassee you would say, “Take I-10 West until you smell the Seminoles.” But in California if you’re explaining how to get from Century City to Santa Monica you would say, “Take the 10 west until it ends.” Same road.

Anyone else ever notice that?

There are 4 comments on this post

  1. In Atlanta, GA we have a “bypass” highway that completely encircles the city and some of the suburbs. Instead of using the highway number (I-285) we just call it “The Perimeter”. You can live ITP or OTP (Inside or Outside the Perimeter), or you can take the Perimeter to Perimeter (the Perimeter Mall and surrounding office parks). Of course, in Atlanta every other street is named “Peachtree”, and in many cases you can take a drive down a street that changes names three times in five miles.

  2. East and west coasts also have different terms for premier highways. In the west they are freeways but in the east they are interstates, expressways, parkways or just highways, never freeways. I remember as a newcomer to Maryland referring to a new “freeway” in conversation with a State Highways official. “Please”, he said “don’t call it a freeway.” He explained to me that freeway was a derogatory term in the east, only used by opponents of new roads. It was permissible to call it an expressway but the favored term in the state department of transportation was the plain ‘highway’.

  3. I have to make an addition, dear brother. There’s an interstate that gets “THE” here in New England: I-90, Massachusetts Turnpike, or, “the Pike, the Mass Pike, etc.”

  4. In the Washington DC area common usage is the plain road number, thus 95, 495, 66, 70, 270, 15 as in “I was on 15 when….” but the definite article is used with “The Beltway”. To say plain Beltway as in “I was on Beltway” would identify you as an immigrant from India or Pakistan, the British colonies, now ex-colonies where definite articles got dropped.

    Or where I live on the fringe in Frederick MD “the road” or “going down the road”, “the road” always being a reference to I-270 our grossly undersized/overload connection to Montgomery Co and the DC area. We’re at the intersection of 70 and 270 and 15 but somehow “the road” has become synonymous with 270 because traffic conditions are so awful.

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