THE "BANDED POLE" HIGHWAY ROUTES:
Even before the booster movement gained full momentum some states, such as Massachusetts, began an independent effort to not just mark highway routes but to push for interstate highway planning. In 1915 the MHC devised a simple route-marking scheme and approached New York and the other New England states to go along and to coordinate a linking of their highways. Each major trunk route would be clearly marked with "banded poles" painted in one of 3 colors. N/S routes were marked in blue, E/W routes were red, and "intermediate" routes were yellow. The states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and New York went along. Vermont, and New Hampshire opted out of the plan having pre-existing color schemes of their own. The latter's system was based, in part, upon the funding source of the road.
1916 FEDERAL ROAD AID ACT:
In 1916 the Federal government passed the Federal Road Aid Act. The Act, largely written by AASHO, would provide aid to those states that agreed to meet certain criteria. The first was that states could identify no more than 7% of their roads on which mail was carried for federal aid. Unfortunately, the bill did not remedy the hopelessness planners already felt wanting to connect the thousands of fragments of already improved rural roads. They felt a road classification scheme was needed. Then preference could be given to roads of greatest use potential.
1921 FEDERAL HIGHWAY ACT:
The flaws of the 1916 legislation were addressed in the Federal Highway act of 1921. It still held to the 7% system, but also for the first time finally prioritized funding for interstate trunk routes. It allowed states to designate 45% of their federal-aid highways to receive 60% of the federal aid. This Act set into motion a chain of events on the national level.
HCNES ROUTE NUMBERING SYSTEM:
Here in New England by 1922 it was clear the banded pole system of route markers devised 7 years before was inadequate. The usefulness of the tri-color scheme lie solely in there not being many main highway routes in each state to mark. This assumption no longer held true. Here in Massachusetts the state had already been funding highways for nearly 20 years. Once it was clear that the secondary highways should also be designated, the simple color scheme had to be abandoned and a more flexible plan developed.
To this end, the Highway Commissioners of New England (HCNES) along with the Commissioners of New York devised a scheme to number highway routes. It built upon the already accepted idea of linking highways across state lines and the fact that a numbering system would be more versatile a color scheme. Also, the AASHO and federal government were now encouraging the linking of state highways into regional networks.
Generally, the HCNES plan called for E/W routes to be given odd numbers and N/S routes to be even numbers. Route numbers below 100 were to be interstate routes. Some of these old interstate routes still exist (see chart). Route numbers above 100, such as RT-112 and RT-116, were local in-state routes. Under this system, the highway route we know as US-5 was born... only it was then called RT-2. For the first time the Hartford to Springfield link of this major N/S highway officially ran along the east side of the Connecticut River through Longmeadow and Springfield. Also, the new RT-2 ran north from Bernardston into Vermont instead of following the old MHC route east to Northfield and New Hampshire. That job was left to the new RT-10. The following is a list of highways with their current route designations as well as their older HCNES route numbers.
This HCNES system would soon prove to be just another short-term, interim solution... for it was but a regional solution for a national problem that was soon to be addressed on the national level.
"US-5: A Highway to History" © Robb Strycharz, 1996-2006
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